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Local news sites reached 40pc of web users during election, study finds

Nic NewmanLocal news websites reached four in ten online readers during December’s general election campaign, according to new research.

The University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has revealed its findings after conducting a unique tracking study on the online news consumption of 1,711 people aged 18 to 65 during the six-week campaign.

The findings have revealed 40pc of those surveyed accessed at least one of 879 different local news websites recorded in the study.

Although this compared to 71pc who visited at least national news site, local sites compared favourably with partisan and alternative websites such as The Canary or Russia Today, which were visited by 6pc, or satire sites such as the Daily Mash, visited by 3pc.

The study compared the reach of RT, which is funded by the Russian government, to that of Brighton daily The Argus, with both being visited by around 1pc of those sampled.

Both pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit pages on Facebook received visits from just 2pc of those tracked during the campaign.

The study also found interest in the election fell over the course of the campaign, and that visits to news sites by those surveyed accounted for just 3pc of all time spent on the internet.

Study co-author Nic Newman, pictured, said: “Much elite and public debate before, during, and after the election focused on the risks of political polarisation (especially around Brexit) but our analysis suggests that the bigger issue may be that many people do not engage much with news at all.”

The survey data was collected by Netquest which tracked the computer and mobile use of 1,711 people aged 18 to 65 from 4 November to 15 December 2019.

News websites whose use was tracked in the survey included 35 national and international sites, 879 local newspaper sites, 20 specialist, alternative, or partisan sites, seven satirical websites and 125 dedicated politics pages on Facebook.