Credit: Ben White on Unsplash

New research shows that news audiences have been flocking to trusted news brands during the coronavirus pandemic.

Newsworks' World Without News report is a broad study of how UK audiences have responded to news pre- and post-lockdown.

The whitepaper looked at how 15 newspapers covered five main news stories from December 2019 to August 2020. After that, it experimented with a sample of 20 individuals across the UK, depriving news junkies of the news and saturating news avoiders with news. Finally, it surveyed 2,000 participants in February and August, two critical moments in the coronavirus pandemic.

66 per cent of respondents said their appreciation of journalism has increased since the start of the pandemic, which rises to 77 per cent amongst the under-35s.

This was widely attributed to a sense that the pandemic has brought on strong feelings towards journalism's importance to our society. In fact, 70 per cent of respondents said democracy would be worse off without journalism.

"This sentiment feels like its rising and rising, it's partly because [audiences] notice that this is being threatened in other countries and cultures," says Ian Wright, joint managing director of Tapestry Research, at the World Without News event.

Why do people read, watch and listen to the news?

The report found there are six goals people associate with staying informed, similar to the BBC's six user needs.

These are: orientate (understand new developments), survive (inform important decision making), escape (disconnect from reality), thrive (get ahead in life), calibrate (understand significance of our surroundings), and connect (communicate and grow socially).

Definitions of six user goals

What is perhaps surprising is that lockdown has not had much impact on these goals, something which other news organisations have reported, too.

That said, 'survive goals' was the only one to grow between February and August. All other goals levelled out over those six months, though 'orientate goals' saw the most pronounced rise and fall around late March and early April, around the peak of the pandemic. It remains the most important goal, followed by 'calibrate'.

From left to right: figures in early February, late March/early April, and Mid-August

For orientate goals - helping audience understand the world around them and remain up to date - the delivery of news around this goal can also be optimised by time and source.

Digital newspapers, traditionally a morning staple, come in behind TV (which includes TV news). But there is still a sizeable moment for morning updates, important for those currently working from home. And newspapers are the most used source for 'calibrate goals' - providing context.

What is news doing right?

The high levels of appreciation amongst the under-35s suggest that news brands are doing something right. The research indicates that younger people are responding well to a sweet spot of fact and opinion found in newspapers, helping to understand why a news story matters. The fact that news is a public record of events also helps.

In a world of untruths on social media, news brands provide reliability: 73 per cent of under-35s said they felt less anxious reading news from recognised brands compared to social media.

"All too often we hear that news brands are less relevant to [under-35s], the reality is the opposite," says Wright.

"From our diary and survey data, we can see that under-35s are more likely to use, to rely on, to trust, to change their opinion on a story, and also change their behaviour, based on what they've heard from news brands."

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