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Surge for TV news during Covid-19, while trust in media wavers

Posted on: June 16, 2020 by Mariella Brown

TV news has seen a boom in viewers turning to broadcast for their news during the coronavirus crisis, according to new research.

In the UK, 55 per cent of respondents to the Digital News Report used TV for news in January, rising to 71 per cent under lockdown when the survey was repeated in April.

But the use of online sources, including social media, for news has stayed relatively constant: over three quarters of UK respondents (77%) said they used online news in January, with a small rise to 79 per cent during lockdown.

The annual study was carried out by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism to survey 40 countries in January and February. A separate survey was conducted in April to measure the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on six countries (UK, USA, Germany, Spain, Argentina and South Korea).


Public trust in the media also brought stark findings; in the past year, trust in the UK media has fallen dramatically. Only 28 per cent of those polled said they trusted most of the news most of the time, down from 40 per cent last year and 50 per cent before the 2016 EU vote.

Broken down into news brands, the report states BBC News was most trusted source (64%), followed by ITV News (60%), Financial Times (58%) and local or regional newspapers coming next at 55 per cent.

As the coronavirus crisis hit, the report said overall levels of trust in the news globally (across 40 countries) were at the lowest point since it had begun to track the data, with 38 per cent saying they trust news overall.

However, the lockdown months of the pandemic boosted people’s trust of information by news organisations worldwide.

“Overall our April 2020 survey found the news media were considered to have done a good job in helping ordinary people understand the extent of the crisis (60%), and also in making clear what people can do personally to mitigate the impact (65%),” the report stated.

And news organisations fared well in terms of providing trusted Covid-19 information as in the UK, traffic doubled to the BBC News website between January to April 2020.

“In terms of trust for information about coronavirus, national news organisations score relatively well, behind doctors and health organisations but ahead of individual politicians and ordinary people. In recent years some populist politicians in particular have taken to undermining the media but this coronavirus pandemic has been a reminder that even weakened media play a critical role in informing populations and shaping opinion.”

But the report warned that “Any ‘trust halo’ for the media may also be short-lived.”


The report also stated a quarter of UK respondents would miss their local newspaper or website “a lot” if it went out of business.  A further 45 per cent of the 835 people surveyed in the UK said they would miss their local “somewhat”.

Comparing worldwide, 54 per cent of German readers and 39 per cent of American readers said they would miss their local news source “a lot”.

The report explains, “In federated systems like Germany and the United States local newspapers play a critical role in providing accountability and this is reflected in these scores.

“The value that people place on their local newspaper is closely correlated with the higher subscription and donation rates that we see for local news in Norway and the United States when compared to the UK.”


The report adds that although it is too early to predict the full impact of the Covid-19 crisis on news, it is almost certain to catalyse faster changes in business models.

In the last 12 months more publishers have started charging for content or tightening paywalls and this is beginning to have an impact. Across countries the report has seen significant increases in the percentage paying for online news.

In the UK, 39 per cent of respondents said they had access to The Times and 20 per cent to The Telegraph, although this could include free trials. Regarding donation models, the report showed The Guardian receives 42 per cent of donations to newspapers in the UK.

A concern outlined by the report was the growing levels of information inequality, in some cases brought about by paywalls, where people with less money become more dependent on social media and other low-quality news while those who can afford it get better information.

However, the report said the issue was of lower concern in the UK “because of widespread availability of high-quality free news from the BBC News website, many widely read popular newspapers and digital-born titles, and titles like the Guardian, with its open donation model.”


Despite the economic challenges, emerging digital behaviours and a shift in trust of the media, the report’s co-editor Nic Newman offers a future for news media post-coronavirus:

“The COVID-19 crisis has clearly demonstrated the value of reliable trusted news to the public but also to policymakers, technology companies, and others who could potentially act to support independent news media. The creativity of journalists has also come to the fore in finding flexible ways to produce the news under extremely difficult circumstances. Fact-checking has become even more central to newsroom operations, boosting digital literacy more widely and helping to counter the many conspiracy theories swirling on social media and elsewhere. Publishers have also found innovative ways to display and interrogate data, just one of many format innovations that have helped audiences understand the background and the implications for each individual.

“The next 12 months will be critical in shaping the future of the news industry. Many news organisations go into this period clearer than ever about the value of their product even if the immediate outlook looks uncertain.”

The report in full can be read here.

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