Millions more seek out local news online during pandemic, figures show

At least 2.2m extra people used local news websites in June compared to January, according to new Comscore figures.

The analytics firm’s data for the overall UK local news sector show the total number of monthly unique visitors grew from 39.4m in January to 41.6m in June.

Some 39.2m visited local news websites in February, 40.9m in March, 41m in April and 39m in May.

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The figures show how people turned online for trusted local information as the spread of Covid-19 grew in March and lockdown made it more difficult to pick up print newspapers, which lost 10-20% of their print circulations.

But despite growing digital audiences, the corresponding advertising revenue still does not rival print.

Reach chief executive Jim Mullen said last month that despite “increased adoption” of the publisher’s digital products, it has “not seen commensurate increases in digital revenue” due to reduced advertising demand.

Most publishers no longer report online audience data via ABC as they did in the past.

It is now necessary to either pay to see the Comscore data or ask each publisher individually if they are willing to share their online audience figures as, unlike many of their print titles, few publish them publicly.

Archant still publishes ABC figures showing daily and monthly average unique users, but these are updated on a six-monthly or annual basis and 2020 figures are not yet available.

See below for some figures indicating the success seen by UK local news publishers in the first half of 2020. This page will be updated if we are sent more data after publication.

Reach

The UK’s largest commercial publisher said Comscore figures show its approximately 60 regional websites gained 3.2m unique users between January and June, growing 9% from 33.4m to 36.5m.

Press Gazette understands these numbers appear not to tally with the above figure of 2.2m extra readers across the sector because differences in the way Comscore calculates and lists the data.

Reach’s regional websites’ monthly page views grew 6.6% from 548m in January to 584m in June.

David Higgerson, chief audience officer at Reach, said: “The Live network of sites continues to go from strength to strength.

“Since the pandemic readers across every region have turned to our trusted brands for Covid news, lockdown information and then more generally to the live network as the source of information for everything in their area.”

Reach said its standouts included:

  • The My London website, which launched in December 2018, grew its unique visitors by 219% in March to July compared to the same period last year
  • The group of Live sites in Scotland and Ireland (Edinburgh Live, Glasgow Live, Belfast Live, Dublin Live and Cork Beo) together grew by 166% year-on-year in the same period
  • Kent Live grew its audience by 105% while Lincolnshire Live was up 90%
  • Longer-standing titles Manchester Evening News and Wales Online both grew by 54%
  • Lancs Live, which launched in February, now reaches 2.3m people each month, which Reach said makes it the largest news site in the county
  • Yorkshire Live and Leeds Live reach a combined de-duplicated audience of 3.5m
JPI Media

JPI Media chief executive David King has congratulated staff on their 41% year-on-year growth in average monthly unique users between January and June, according to Comscore figures.

The brands grew by 15% between January and June.

King said the number of unique users across JPI’s brands, which include the Yorkshire Post and Sheffield Star, averaged about 13.6m in the first six months of the year, ending on 14.1m in June.

Previous indications that JPI titles saw a small decrease in unique visitors between January and June, despite a small increase in the intervening months, are understood to have included the i paper. The Government cleared JPI’s sale of the title to Mail publisher DMGT in March.

A chart from UKOM using Comscore figures for January to April claimed that JPI Media’s combined titles gained 5.5m extra online users between January and April. This includes the i.

Comscore chart showing biggest online growth properties between January and April 2020. Picture: Comscore/UKOM
Newsquest

A Comscore breakdown of the regional publishers showed Newsquest’s combined brands grew by 37% year-on-year to 17.6m average monthly unique users between January and June.

Archant

Archant grew by 24% to 4.1m average monthly unique users in the first six months of the year, according to Comscore.

Iliffe (note: Google Analytics figures)

liffe Media, which owns Kent’s KM Media Group and about 16 other newspaper titles, grew its page views by 63% in January to June 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

It reached a total of 214.3m page views in that period, up from 131.2m the year before, according to the publisher’s Google Analytics data.

A spokesperson told Press Gazette Iliffe’s website users had grown by 92% from 18.4m to 35.2m.

They also revealed:

  • Flagship website Kent Online reached almost 5m unique users in March, year-on-year audience growth of 147%
  • Newbury Weekly News saw unique users increase by 88% year-on-year between January and June
  • In the same six-month period, the Inverness Courier saw growth of 271% in page views from 3.8m to 14.2m
  • Bury Free Press saw page view growth of 149%, up from 2.3m to 5.7m, and unique user growth of 134%
  • Lynn News saw similar page view growth of 136%, up from 2.6m to 6m, and unique user growth of 112%
Hyperlocal titles

The Independent Community News Network said this week that traffic across its 123 member hyperlocal titles had doubled since the start of lockdown “as audiences were seeking out trusted and sources of news”.

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