Research Projects

Latest research: ‘News Deserts’ in the UK

The CJP has launched its first research project: exploring the rise of ‘news deserts’ in the UK.

You can now read or download the report:

News Coverage

Research Outline

Across the world are areas in which local news coverage has declined, or disappeared altogether, leaving communities without information crucial to healthy community and democracy.

This is due to a number of economic factors: a local newspaper or news distributor may have been closed, or a paper may have been ‘hollowed out’ (when journalists are laid off or rationalised into more remote production units.) This has worsened significantly during the pandemic.

The objectives of the project were:

  1. To determine what the information needs of people in local news deserts are.
  2. To gather empirical evidence on where and what local news has disappeared.
  3. To find out how people are informing themselves in the absence of professionally produced news.
  4. To assess the impact of the lack of professionally produced news on democratic engagement and participation.

The Executive Summary lists ten main findings:

  • Social media are now dominant in local news and information systems, used for a range of local information and communication functions as well as to access local news websites
  • Social media use and interactions are seen as causes of local social division and sources of misinformation
  • Local newspapers are no longer perceived as ‘community glue’, holding community identity and collective emotion. Some respondents even characterised local news websites as provocative ‘clickbait’, mostly devoid of nuanced or positive reporting
  • Local government is considered to be poorly scrutinised by journalists (though in some communities coverage still exceeded that of other institutions)
  • National institutions and local public services – including the NHS, police, education and the environment – are thought to be both under-reported and misrepresented
  • Local news providers are seen as repeating institutional lines by publishing press releases uncritically instead of reporting independently
  • There is a significant lack of knowledge about local politics and current affairs
    (in two communities there was virtually no awareness of imminent local government reorganisation). This unfamiliarity appears to be driving distrust
  • Respondents reported struggling to access basic local information
  • Poor new-media literacy skills and lack of access to digital media due to poverty prevent many from accessing local news and information online
  • Respondents want a trusted, locally based, professional and accessible source of local news, that reports and investigates local issues and institutions, and publishes positive stories that help bind the community together.

The project was led by our research associate Dr. Steven Barclay of City, University of London, undertaking a combination of on-the-ground research in some communities and remote research in others. The full methodology and community profiles can be found as appendices at the end of the report.

The report was funded by the JRSST Charitable Trust, and launched at the House of Commons on Weds 15th June, 2022.

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