The UK COVID-19 news and information project analyses how the British public navigates information and misinformation about coronavirus and about how the government and other institutions are responding to the pandemic. Our research began in April 2020 and will initially run for eight months. The findings of each wave of the study will be made publicly available here. The final conclusions will be published in several public reports.
Published on 28 October.
This report finds that the 'infodemically vulnerable' - who consume little to no news and information about COVID-19, and say they would not trust it even if they did - grew from 6% early in the crisis to 15% in late August. It finds most of the UK public are informed about COVID-19 as a disease, report that they have behaved cautiously and mostly followed government guidelines, and say they are willing to take precautionary measures if instructed to do so. The report recommends news outlets focus less on politicians and pundits, except where absolutely necessary, and more on the sources that are highly and broadly trusted, and demonstrably help people understand the crisis, most notably the NHS and scientists, doctors, and other experts.
Published on 25 August. Survey in the field 13-19 August 2020.
Despite important investigative reporting and previous research demonstrating that people who follow the news know significantly more about the coronavirus disease, a third (35%) say that they think that the coronavirus situation in the UK has been made worse by how the news media has covered it. Just 7% say better, and 46% say news media coverage has neither made the situation better nor worse. The percentage of people who say they have used online news as a source of information about COVID-19 in the last week has dropped by 17 percentage points since April, use of TV news for information about the pandemic by 22 percentage points, and use of social media specifically for information about coronavirus by 25 percentage points.
Published on 11 August. Survey in the field 30 July - 5 August 2020.
Most people still see COVID-19 as quite threatening or very threatening to the UK economy (94%), the health of the UK population as a whole (80%), and their personal health (54%). 41% say COVID-19 is a threat to their personal finances. Belief in the threat of COVID-19 to the UK economy has been most widespread and most consistent, with the proportion believing COVID-19 to be quite or very threatening to the UK economy not dropping below 90% since mid-April. Those that consume COVID-19 news more frequently are slightly more likely to perceive COVID-19 as a threat to the UK economy, the health of the UK population, and their own personal health. However, the differences are quite small.
Published on 28 July. Survey in the field 16-22 July 2020.
The proportion of the UK population that say they always or often actively avoid the news is now at 22%. Levels of news avoidance grew sharply in April and May (+10pp), and have broadly remained at high levels since then. This is despite the proportion that say COVID-19 is the single most important issue facing the UK today has fallen from 72% at the end of April, to 51% in mid-July. Most COVID-19 news avoiders say that they avoid news on television (77%), followed by news websites/apps (51%), social media (50%), print (48%) and radio (41%).
Published on 23 July.
In this report we gather findings from the first six waves of survey data conducted as part of the project. Overall news use levels remain higher than before the crisis, though COVID-19 news use has declined significantly from mid-April to late June. The big initial surge in news use has been followed by a slow and consistent decline over the ten-week period. Gaps in news use by age have grown. Levels of news use are high, but a 12 percentage points (pp) gap between the proportion of 18–54s and over-55s who used COVID-19 news at least once a day or more on average had doubled to 24pp by the end of June (51% vs. 751%), as news use fell more sharply within the younger age group. News inequality has grown by gender also with an 8pp gap emerging slowly by late June, with women less likely to regularly access COVID-19 news than men.
Published on 14 July. Survey in the field 2-8 July 2020.
A majority (57%) of the UK public say they think the UK government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been worse than most other developed countries, up from 46% in late April. Almost half (44%) feel that the government response is too focused on protecting the economy, with about a third (37%) saying the balance is right. One third (33%) say they feel the coverage has not been critical enough, 28% say they feel the news media have covered the government response fairly, and 26% feel the coverage has been too critical. But perception of the news is polarised along political lines.
Published on 30 June. Survey in the field 18-24 June 2020.
The use of social media during the coronavirus pandemic has been fairly consistent, dropping only slightly since the surge in internet use in April following the lockdown. Facebook (12%) and Twitter (12%) are the platforms most widely used for news about COVID-19, followed by YouTube (5%), WhatsApp (4%) and Instagram (3%). Just 10% say that they trust news and information about COVID-19 on social media, video sites and messaging apps. The proportion who think that the COVID-19 situation in the UK is heading in the right direction rose from 24% two weeks earlier to 32%.
Published on 18 June. Survey in the field 4-10 June 2020.
A large share of the UK population, across demographic differences, political differences, and differences in news use and trust in government, say they would be willing to take preventive measures to stop the spread of coronavirus. We find still higher willingness to adopt preventive measures among those who are more frequent news users. 24% of our respondents think that the coronavirus situation in the UK is heading in the right direction (down from 39% in mid-April), and 29% of respondents thought that the coronavirus situation in the UK was on the wrong track (up from 10% in April).
Published on 1 June. Survey in the field 21-27 May 2020.
Trust in the UK government as a source of news and information has declined considerably with 48% rating it 'relatively trustworthy' compared to 67% in mid-April. Trust in news organisations is also down, from 57% to 46%. Meanwhile, unease about misleading or false information about coronavirus from the government and politicians is growing with 38% (from 27%) and 40% (from 31%), respectively, of our panel survey expressing concern. A quarter of the survey say the coronavirus situation in UK is heading in the wrong direction, up from 10% in mid-April. 42% say the picture is mixed.
Published on 19 May. Survey in the field 7-13 May 2020.
News avoidance is becoming more widespread in the UK, with 22% saying they often or always actively try to avoid the news (up from 15% in the first factsheet). The vast majority (86%) say they are trying to avoid news about COVID-19, with two-thirds saying they avoid news because of the effect it has on their mood. News avoidance is higher among users of sources that rely on intentional exposure, such as television news, compared to those sources that rely more on incidental exposure such as social media and messaging apps.
Published on 5 May. Survey in the field 24-28 April 2020.
UK public opinion is split three ways between those who think the news media have not been critical enough of the government response (30%), those who think it has been covered fairly (28%), and those who think the coverage has been too critical (29%). Judgement of news coverage is polarised along political lines, with 63% on the left feeling the news media have not been critical enough, and 66% of those on the right saying news media has been too critical of the government.
Published on 28 April. Survey in the field 10-14 April 2020.
We examine people’s attitudes towards how news organisations, government and other institutions are responding to the coronavirus pandemic in the UK based on a survey fielded from 10 April to 14 April. We find that more than one-third (37%) think that the news media is doing a good job of responding to coronavirus. This is higher than the equivalent figure for technology companies (15%) but lower than the figure for the NHS (92%) and the UK government (54%).
As well as our panel survey results, the project is tracking the popularity of coronavirus news stories via 'Most Read' lists from leading media outlets and interactions on social media. The indicators are recorded on our COVID-19 news indicators webpage. The page is in a beta phase of development.
Communications in the coronavirus crisis: lessons for the second wave
Most in the UK say news media have helped them respond to COVID-19, but a third say news coverage has made the crisis worse
The project tracks the evolving situation in real time in the UK and identify factors that influence how informed people are and how they understand and respond to the crisis, providing vital insight into how people find information about coronavirus and about responses to it, what sources of information they find the most credible, and whether they are concerned about misinformation. It also tracks how knowledgeable people are about basic facts about the virus and how people are responding to the pandemic on the basis of this information.
By using a nationally representative survey sample, the researchers can control for the importance of factors like age, gender, education and political orientation in how people access and process information about the pandemic.
The first of ten survey waves was in the field in April, with a new wave fielded to the same panel of respondents every fortnight the coming months. The researchers are also monitoring key sources of online news and information about the coronavirus. This project provides timely data and analysis while the coronavirus crisis is still ongoing, complementing existing work already pursued as part of the Misinformation, Science and Media project and other Reuters Institute research activities.
Alexandra Freeman, Executive Director of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, Alison Preston, Co-director of the Making Sense of Media project at Ofcom, Catherine Dennison, Program Head, Welfare at the Nuffield Foundation, and Will Moy, Chief Executive of Full Fact, serve as the project advisory board.
Richard Fletcher is a Senior Research Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and leads the Institute’s research team.
Antonis Kalogeropoulos is a Lecturer in Communication and Media at the University of Liverpool and a Research Associate of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
Felix M. Simon is a Leverhulme Doctoral Scholar at the Oxford Internet Institute and a Research Assistant at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
Rasmus Kleis Nielsen is the Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Professor of Political Communication at the University of Oxford.
The survey was commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford to understand how UK residents get information about coronavirus, and how they respond to the pandemic. The survey will be supplemented by regular content analysis from major UK news outlets.
The surveys are conducted by YouGov using an online questionnaire. The aim is to survey same set of respondents 10 times at regular fortnightly intervals.
The questions in each survey will be a combination of tracker questions (designed to track changes in attitudes and behaviours over time), questions cycled in and out from wave to wave, and one-off questions designed around key events.
The sample is drawn from YouGov’s UK panel, with panelists invited to complete the first survey based on nationally representative quotas for age, gender, and region. The data are weighted to targets based on census/industry accepted data. Respondents from the first survey are invited to complete subsequent surveys, enabling any analysis to better capture change over time.
We should note that online samples will tend to under-represent people who are not online (typically older, less affluent, and with limited formal education). In this sense it is better to think of results as representative of the online population of the UK (internet penetration in the UK is approximately 94%).
In addition to the panel surveys, every day we will collect the “most read” stories from large UK outlets, as well as the top 10 Google searches in the UK and the stories with the largest engagement on social media.
The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. It also funds student programmes that provide opportunities for young people to develop skills in quantitative and scientific methods. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Ada Lovelace Institute. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org.