Chris Waiting, chief executive of The Conversation
With trust in media showing promise of recovering from an all-time low (increasing six percentage points to 44 per cent), the recent launch of GB News had a chance to do something different.
After initially pulling in 336,000 viewers - three times the number that watched BBC News, for the launch, GB News has now built up record figures with their flagship 8 pm interview show pulling in 92,500 viewers for 23 June. These figures were again three times higher than Sky News, and 26 per cent more than BBC News, including higher numbers in the 16 - 35 year old demographic.
GB News’ bold approach to broadcasting
Positioning themselves as 'lending an ear to some of Britain's marginalised and overlooked voices,' presenter Andrew Neil vowed to 'puncture the pomposity of our elites and politics, business, media and academia and expose their growing promotion of cancel culture for the threat to free speech and democracy that it is.' Bold statements for a broadcaster to make in this day and age where impartiality is top of every news channel’s agenda.
After clashing with guests, like Victoria Hughson from the Libertarian, while discussing whether employees should be forced to return to the office after they have had both vaccines, Andrew Neil announced he was taking a break from the channel after just two weeks. He admitted the station had a rocky start, following the opening days where they were hit by technical issues and complaints, resulting in a number of brands pulling advertising.
GB News also adopts an interesting use of non-experts. For example, they recently talked to the Daily Mail’s Scottish political editor about Scottish football supporters coming to Wembley. This begs the question, why did they not talk to an actual fan or a football expert? Surely that would have made more sense?
While some described the channel as a UK version of America’s Fox News, Ofcom received nearly 400 complaints about ‘Tonight Live with Dan Wootton’, after he criticised the delays to England's final easing of lockdown restrictions.
What audiences want
Controversial content certainly makes headlines, but that is not what audiences want. 74 per cent of audiences prefer news that reflects a range of views and lets them decide what to think. A majority also think that news outlets should try to be neutral on every issue.
As an industry, we must honour what audiences want and deliver a range of neutral views through unbiased reporting. GB News could do well to take note of this and consider how to transform themselves into more of a truth-telling, unbiased news source that provides audiences with what they want.
Here are my top tips on how to achieve this:
- Deliver unbiased commentary from experts like academics, as their comments are focused on fact-based analysis, supported by research.
- Tell stories grounded in facts and stats. These are critical components for truthful storytelling and should be the foundation of every story. They can then be brought to life by commentary from academics and other credible experts.
- Adopt truthful headlines that are not sensationalised for clickbait purposes. Clickbait headlines often drive confusion, misinformation and create mistrust.
Will GB News shatter trust in media?
The jury is out on how GB News will impact the media landscape. While its ratings look promising, the sudden departure of Andrew Neil, numerous audience complaints combined with a plethora of controversial views and content does put a question mark on its future.
It is clear they have gone against the grain and rewritten the playbook for news reporting, but how damaging that will be in regaining the audience's trust remains to be seen. We are already skating on thin ice, so let us hope GB News puts its ice picks away and joins the industry in our collective efforts to rebuild the trust and reputation of news sources.
Chris Waiting is the chief executive at The Conversation. He previously held senior management positions at the BBC and more recently at the Associated Press. He holds an MA from the University of Cambridge and an MBA from the London Business School.
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