UK media: Trust and audience in decline

By Charlotte Hervis

The annual Reuters Digital News report has just been published. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism conducts in depth research across 46 markets exploring news consumption habits and trust levels, based on audience research (global sample size 93,000) undertaken by YouGov. This year the online questionnaire was sent to survey participants at the end of January/start of February 2022. 

The findings of the UK data set (sample size 2,410) indicate that mainstream media sources are losing both audience and trust. Curious and mindful news consumers are increasingly seeking out alternative news sources, turning to individual or independent voices to offer news and opinion. 

News fatigue: The UK was among the top five markets suffering news fatigue. In the 2015 survey, 70% of survey respondents said they were very interested or extremely interested in news. This has fallen to 43% in 2022, one of the biggest drops of all international markets. 

Active avoidance: 46% of respondents from the UK market said they actively avoid news, up from 35% in 2019. The UK was the second market after Brazil with the greatest proportion of survey respondents who actively avoid the news. Common reasons given for news avoidance include repetitiveness of the news agenda, particularly around Covid and politics, and the impact news consumption can have on mental wellbeing. 

Loss of trust in the BBC: The BBC was among the public broadcasters suffering the sharpest drop in trust, from 75% in 2018 to 55% in 2022. The public broadcasters of Australia (ABC) and Canada (CBC) suffered a similar fate in terms of waning trust, but the BBC saw the sharpest percentage fall over time.  

A free online press? UK news consumers are among the least likely to pay for online news, with just 9% of respondents paying for their online news, against a 17% average for 20 markets. In comparison, 19% of US respondents said they had paid in some form for online news in the past year. 

Growing awareness of external influences on news agendas: 20% of respondents agreed with the statement ‘UK media is free from undue political influence’; the same percentage of respondents agreed with the statement ‘UK media is free from undue business influence’. This is down from 34% and 29% respectively in 2017, suggesting that there is a growing awareness of the role that third parties can play in shaping media agendas and content.  

The Reuters Institute report downplays the impact which challenger brands to publisher business models such as Substack and Patreon may be having on the trends which were reported in 2022. It will be interesting to see whether they continue to downplay this trend into 2023. 

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