Brexit has dominated media attention ever since the 2016 referendum in which the UK public voted to leave the European Union. Experts even claim that reporting on Brexit is overshadowing other pressing issues in journalism.
On the plus side, media organisations have experienced a spike in website traffic, dubbed ‘Brexit bump,’ resulting from increased coverage of the topic.
But just how much has the traffic gone up for local, national and international media?
For US-based Bloomberg, Brexit-related stories are now among the most-read content that it produces, amounting to a third of the organisation’s overall coverage in the UK.
Bloomberg's data show that traffic for just the first five months of 2019 is already up 25 per cent compared to the same time period in 2018.
At some high points along the Brexit process, such as the first and second rejection of the Prime Minister’s deal, Bloomberg ran more than 1,000 pieces of content on Brexit, including live blogs, breaking news and short articles across its platforms.
Heather Harris, executive editor for EMEA at Bloomberg News, said that Bloomberg’s coverage of Brexit has attracted interest from across the world, as investors and the general public alike try to understand the latest developments.
Bloomberg has used a range of creative ways to convey Brexit to a wide audience, including an 8-bit style game where players go through different options for leaving the EU, an explainer on how a parliamentary vote works, an investigative piece into how hedge funds made millions from private polling during the referendum, and travelling across the country to portray a wider picture to readers.
"We've really tried to move outside the London bubble and look at how Brexit has affected cities outside of the capital and to understand how far this is going to impact real lives outside the corridors of power," she explained.
The boost in traffic resulting from more interactive and inventive ways to tell this complex story could help shape future editorial decisions beyond the topic of Brexit itself. Harris added that many readers are looking for someone to simply explain the latest developments.
"Sometimes our live blogs have stretched to five hours or more because people need somebody to explain everything going on with the parliamentary shenanigans," she said.
Whilst covering a topic which is unprecedented in nature has been a challenge, Harris said it is one that Bloomberg has managed well.
"We knew from the get-go after the referendum result that we would need to put an editor in the newsroom in charge of coverage across all the different teams and areas that we have.
"That editor does not have a single direct report, which is very unusual in the way that we structure ourselves and actually that was probably the best decision we made to begin with."
Emily Jones, senior communications manager for The Times and the Sunday Times, agreed and said that they have also seen an increase in traffic for Brexit-related articles.
"Readers look for our journalists’ expertise to explain complex stories," she said.
At The Times and Sunday Times, exclusive Brexit stories are now often the top performing articles and, like Bloomberg, interactive pieces such as quizzes and flow-charts have been among their best performing content.
"Our political correspondent Henry Zeffman, for example, attempted to predict every possible outcome of the Brexit negotiations," Jones explained.
"On the day the flowchart was published, it got 612 per cent more traffic than the average news article."
Jones also said that a similar spike was seen with ‘Do you think like a Leaver or Remainer?’, a light-hearted Brexit quiz which saw 461 per cent more traffic than average news content.
On a national and regional level, Reach’s wide range of titles has also experienced the same surge in traffic. National title The Mirror and the company’s regional titles saw almost 14 million Brexit-related page views so far this year, compared with 1.3 million for all of 2018.
Across the network, prominent sources of page views came from content about votes in parliament (13 per cent) and content about 'no deal' (10 per cent).
Four regions covered by Reach have accounted for almost 60 per cent of its regional Brexit page views, with the North West and Wales already surpassing one million views each so far this year.
The news industry has seen a similar trend following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in 2016. Dubbed the ‘Trump Bump’, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times all reported spikes in their digital subscribers, with some also reporting an increase in revenue as a result.
Free daily newsletter
- Why seven hyperlocal magazines merged to make it through lockdown
- Josh Hinkle of KXAN on translating solutions journalism to local TV news
- "Mass customisation" of neighbourhood data can help hyperlocal news become more sustainable
- Kim Bui, director of audience innovation at Arizona Republic, and David Cohn, co-founder of Subtext, on building reader relationships via SMS
- Public interest news requires £10m-a-year to sustain innovation, a report finds