British public values role of journalism more since pandemic, study finds

Two thirds of people say they now value and appreciate media more since coronavirus crisis began

Chiara Giordano
Wednesday 07 October 2020 07:34
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A man reads a newspaper during the coronavirus pandemic.
A man reads a newspaper during the coronavirus pandemic.

The majority of the British public has developed a newfound appreciation of journalism since the start of the coronavirus crisis, according to a major study.  

As Covid-19 was spreading across the globe earlier this year, journalists in newsrooms up and down the country had their noses to the grindstone as they worked tirelessly to help the public make sense of daily press briefings, new lockdown rules and a constant flurry of figures – all while still getting to grips with the pandemic themselves.  

And their efforts seem to have paid off, as two thirds (66 per cent) of the 1,000 people who took part in a nationwide survey said they now appreciate and value journalism more. 

Encouragingly, the increase is most stark in those under the age of 35, with 77 per cent valuing the work of journalists more now in providing reliable information and news, the study, by three leading research firms, found.  

Younger people are increasingly using trusted news brands to check what they see on social media.  

Although 42 per cent of under 35-year-olds said they used social media more throughout the height of the pandemic, seven in 10 of those said they felt less anxious about a story they had seen on these platforms once they checked it out via a news brand.  

And 70 per cent of all respondents agreed a “world without journalism would harm democratic society” – with nearly all of those citing the work journalists do in “covering important topics and issues that might otherwise be overlooked” and are “important to society”.  

The in-depth World Without News study, commissioned by Newsworks, the body representing UK newspaper publishers, in partnership with the News Media Association and the Society of Editors, has been revealed to coincide with the Journalism Matters campaign, which launched on Monday.  

Spanning a total of nine months, across two periods – pre and post lockdown – the research included a unique behavioural experiment that deprived regular readers from consuming news brands.  

On the flipside, a group of non-news readers were asked to read a news brand every single day for the same one-week period.  

Denise Turner, insight director at Newsworks, said the results of the experiment were “surprisingly similar” despite the two groups being from polar opposites of the news spectrum.  

She added: “A world without news made people more anxious, less clear and less sure of their perspective on the world. In short, the results showed us how news brands help us to navigate our lives and provide us with an orientation that just isn’t there when we are starved of news brands.”  

Jo Allan, managing director at Newsworks, said: “This research clearly shows the importance of trusted news and information. Journalism matters to increasingly large numbers of people who are relying on news brands more than ever, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.  

“This is our biggest study to date and what has emerged is the essential and growing role news plays in bringing us together, providing us with different perspectives and helping us to understand what is happening in the world around us.”  

Lynne Anderson, deputy chief executive of News Media Association, called for government support so local and national journalism can continue.  

She said: “The industry needs urgent action from government on a number of fronts – tackling the overweening power of the tech giants, promoting verifiable news sources, and initiating targeted support initiatives - so that it can continue to perform this vital role and deliver the journalism we all want to read.”  

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, added: "It was always understood that the public supported a free press and recognised the need for the mainstream media with its ability to provide well researched, balanced, correctly edited news content and the proof has been provided by the numbers in which people have turned to trusted journalism for news and information during this pandemic.  

"The figures supported by this research underscore the public's understanding of the value of the news content that the press provides in the UK."

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