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September 28, 2023

Charted: The biggest news topics of summer 2023

How coverage of the European heatwave and wildfires matched up to other big stories.

By Aisha Majid

The Ukraine war and Lucy Letby murder trial have dominated the UK news cycle this summer.

Press Gazette has analysed which topics were chosen to lead UK news websites using data from Azernis, a competitor monitoring platform for newsrooms.

We looked at the lead articles – those that appeared in the top position of the homepage – each day for seven leading UK news outlets between 1 May and 31 August.

The outlets included those for which Azernis had four months of data: Sky News, BBC News, the Daily Mail, the Independent, the Mirror, The Times and Sunday Times, and the Daily Telegraph.

The subject of each article was identified by Azernis using machine learning to extract the most important topics, resulting in 32 main subjects. Articles that could not be “clustered” under a theme because they, for example, addressed a topic that only appeared once, were excluded.

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News stories of summer 2023: Climate crisis low in priority

Our analysis found that despite a summer of wildfires and soaring temperatures across Europe, the climate crisis was not seen as the most important story during these months.

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Two climate-related topics appeared in the data – the Greek wildfires and the European heatwave – that together were the subject of 85 (3%) of the 2,675 lead articles that were able to be assigned a topic. Climate change as a standalone issue and overarching topic did not, however, appear in the data.

Among four long-running stories identified in the data that appeared across the four-month period – the case of the baby serial killer Lucy Letby, the Greek wildfires and the European heatwave, migrant crossings in the English Channel and the war in Ukraine – the war was most often the lead story (making up 15% of leading articles or 408 stories), while those on migrants Channel crossings were least often the top story (3% or 67 stories).

However, some short-term stories such as the BBC presenter scandal received a lot of coverage in a brief time frame. There were 88 homepage lead articles about Huw Edwards, but the bulk of these appeared in mid-July over a two-week period.

The Titanic submersible story was another such topic, having been placed at the top of the homepage 115 times over the course of a few days in June – prompting a debate about news values when contrasted with the lack of coverage of the migrant crisis.

BBC went biggest on Ukraine while Letby dominated at Mirror and Mail

There were also significant differences between news outlets.

For the BBC, more than 53% of lead articles from the 499 articles by the public broadcaster in our dataset were about the war in Ukraine, compared to 6% for the Mirror and 8% for Mail Online.

Aside from the BBC, the war in Ukraine was the most popular single topic of the articles at the top of the homepage of The Telegraph (in the top spot 33% of the time), The Independent (30%), Sky News (28%) and The Times and Sunday Times (26%) websites.

For the Mirror, stories about baby serial killer Lucy Letby were the most common topic at the top of the homepage, accounting for 29% of the Reach title's lead articles during the four months. Letby was also the number one topic of lead articles on the website Mail Online (23%).

Philip Schofield’s affair was also a bigger topic for the Mirror and Mail compared to the other titles, each with 21% of featured stories at the top of their homepages about the ITV presenter.

Royal coverage, especially around the coronation of King Charles, was a bigger topic for the Mail, with 17% of its lead articles during this period identified as related to the monarch, compared to 1% at the BBC.

Mail Online switches homepage top story most often

When it comes to how often news websites update their lead articles, Mail Online and the Mirror updated the top story the most, with the Mail changing its lead story on average more than seven times a day, and the Mirror seven times a day.

Both sites also published the most content on their homepage, with the Mail averaging 374 articles across the whole homepage each weekday and 263 during weekends, while the Mirror published 267 on weekdays and 191 on weekends.

In contrast, The Times and BBC News updated their top homepage story the least, each around three times a day. The Times updates its homepage once in the morning, afternoon and evening rather than publishing constantly rolling updates.

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Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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