New polling data published today shows that people are not getting key information on activities and decisions made in their local area, despite accessing local news. The research, conducted by YouGov and published by Nesta, shows that 70% of people polled don’t know about decisions made by their local council and almost two-thirds (64%) say that to an extent they miss local events they would’ve otherwise gone to as they don’t find out about them in time. This is despite 54% of people saying they read local news at least once a week or more. This suggests that the local news they are receiving is not focusing on reporting key decisions affecting their area or activities that could help foster community engagement.
This snapshot of public opinion comes at a time when the number of local newspapers has halved in the last decade and news distribution is now more unequal than income inequality in the UK. The Cairncross Review, published earlier this year, highlighted how the loss of local news poses a threat to democratic processes by not providing a clear platform for holding institutions to account and closing down avenues for local residents to campaign on issues that most affect then. Furthermore, original Nesta research shows that already disadvantaged communities that tend to have older populations, higher levels of unemployment and lower levels of education are particularly affected by a decline in journalistic activity. These communities are losing a vital way to hold those in power to account, to participate in democracy and to feel part of a shared community.
Over the past few years, people are filling this gap by using social media, Facebook in particular, to get up to date information about their area, including events and politics. Results from our poll show that people view Facebook as one of the best ways to access information about local events (46%) and issues and a fifth of people (21%) are using it to find out information about their local candidates in the upcoming General Election. However, given the rapidness at which disinformation spreads on social media and Facebook’s policy not to fact check political advertisements, this calls into question the quality and accuracy of the content people are reading to find out about potentially big issues that could impact their communities.
Nesta, with funding from the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), is running the Future News Fund pilot to help tackle the issue of declining local news and fix the democratic immune system of communities across England. The £2 million fund, which runs from February to June 2020, will seek to support innovative ideas and businesses that reimagine engagement between news and communities and test new approaches to financial sustainability of the organisations producing public interest news. The fund will provide grants of £20,000 to £100,000, plus wrap-around support to prototype new solutions and an accelerator to support early-stage businesses.
Valerie Mocker, Director of the Future News Fund, said:
“Local news, particularly public interest news, is part of our democratic immune system, helping to hold politicians and businesses to account and giving a platform to citizens to campaign about issues and shape the world around them. When this is missing, we see a decline in people knowing what is happening in their area and potentially a decline in being able to engage in decision making that will have consequences for them.
“We’re very excited to be piloting the Future News Fund to help rejuvenate and revive local news that meaningfully engages with communities and tries out ideas that can help financially sustain news models across England. We’re particularly looking for ideas that support underserved communities and reimagine what public interest news can, and should, be.”
Applications for the Future News Fund will be open until the 8th of December. For more information, please go to https://www.nesta.org.uk/project/future-news-fund/
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2008 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th - 19th November 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
For more information and to see the full results, please contact Wallis Grant / [email protected] - 07557 162 651
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