Dearth of local news in Wales leading to rise in misinformation says journalism study
A dearth of local news is leading to a rise of misinformation as more people get their news from online social media such as Facebook, according to a new study.
The News Desert Report by the Charitable Journalism Project used as one of its case studies the town of Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire which had seen a significant weakening in local news provision over the last few years.
A focus group carried out with people there gave examples of instances where people had believed news they had read on Facebook because they did not read news about the area written by journalists.
One of those interviewed in the Pembrokeshire town told of a resident being “absolutely adamant that a church was going to be knocked down in Milford Haven and a mosque was going to be built in its place. He wasn’t looking at the source material, it was a nasty Britain First type group.”
Respondents also expressed the need the more positive, community-binding news stories that were previously featured in hyperlocal newspapers.
‘I mourn the loss of the County Echo,” an interviewee in Pembrokeshire said. “Which was in many ways very small-town.
“About 25 years ago I had a flower pot stolen from my front garden – that made the paper. How lovely to live somewhere where that happens… I can’t imagine an edition of the County Echo in which I didn’t know 20 people.
“It fostered the community. It was ours. And the fact that it was in print answered a need that I don’t think digital media ever really can.”
The report notes that there has been a gradual weakening of local newspaper news in the area, with the circulation of the Western Telegraph reduced from 21,633 in 2010 to 7,181 in 2021. The Milford Mercury was axed in 2020 and the Fishguard County Echo was folded into the Tenby Observer.
There had been a growth in audience for online news, however, with WalesOnline’s section about Pembrokeshire attracting 700,000 viewers a month and the Western Telegraph 120,000 viewers.
The report said that the growing use of social media to access news, however, served as the cause of local social division and sources of misinformation rather than as a tool of binding communities together.
“Local newspapers are no longer perceived as ‘community glue’, holding community identity and collective emotion,” the report said. “Some respondents even characterised local news websites as provocative ‘clickbait’, mostly devoid of nuanced or positive reporting.
“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 report noted that respondents believed that there was a lack of scrutiny of national institutions and local public services – including the NHS, police, education and the environment.
There was praise for the BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporting Service but also a recognition that the coverage was patchy in some areas, with uneven provision and vacancies open for long periods.
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