Readers prefer home-grown local news … but less than half will pay for it

People are more likely to trust local news produced by people based in their immediate area, new research has shown.

The Public Interest News Foundation research showed 58% of people surveyed would trust local news from an organisation that was based in their area, compared to 31% who said they would not.

When asked if they would trust local news that came from a news organisation based outside their area, 31% said they would, and 55% said they would not.

Those surveyed were asked: “How much, if at all, would you trust these news organisations?” before being asked to answer for each of national news organisation, a news organisation covering my local area that’s based in my local area and a news organisation covering my local area that’s not based in my local area.

The PINF study, conducted by pollsters Opinium which asked 2,000 people for their views and then weighted the answers to reflect the UK population, also provided new data on how much readers were prepared to pay for local news.

PINF asked the public how much they were prepared to pay for ‘a quality, independent local news service.’ 40% said nothing, 16% said don’t know … and 43% at least something. The average amount people were prepared to pay was £1.30 a month, with 12% paying between £2 and £4.99 a month. 4% were prepared to pay more than this.

PINF — set up to support the development of independent publishers on the recommendation of IMPRESS, which regulates many such publishers — said the findings should be used by Government to better support smaller publishers.

Jonathan Heawood, Executive Director of PINF, said: “The public have a marked preference for homegrown local news.

“This could explain why small, independent news publishers are attracting large audiences in local areas across the UK.

“And it should encourage policymakers and funders to build the capacity of these genuinely local publishers, who urgently need investment to capitalise on their trusting relationships with audiences.”

Richard Gurner, Editor and Publisher of Caerphilly Observer, said: “For a local news service to be relevant, trusted, and valued by the community it serves, it is essential for it to be an active part of that community.

“It is heartening to read the results of the research which confirm what we already know — that local news is most trusted when it is reported by people based in the area. Further investment and support of independent publishers is needed for them to be part of the solution to tackle the problems of trust and sustainability within local journalism.”

The closure of district offices and consolidation of newsrooms has been a common theme over the last 20 years in local news, as declining revenue from traditional sources dominated the local news industry.

The switch to home-working during the pandemic has prompted publishers including Reach and Archant to permanently close some newsrooms after feedback from staff showed many preferred a more flexible way of working, which in turn means more journalists now working locally to their community than pre-pandemic.

Another publisher, Newsquest, now lists working in a physical newsroom as one of the benefits of working for it in job ads.

Regardless of office location or availability, audience data from Ipsos Iris suggests established local news publishers are continuing to hold on to the new audiences they gained during the peak of the pandemic. Latest data for November shows 37.2m people read local news from the main news publishers — 74% of the population online. That excludes people reading locally-relevant news stories on the BBC website.

Established publishers have worked together during the pandemic to highlight their credentials of being trusted sources of local news for many decades, and have used campaigns such as Journalism Matters Week, run by the News Media Association, to show readers why journalism produced by their teams is sourced and why it can be relied upon to be fair and accurate.

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