Foreign news coverage in UK press falls 40% since 1979

A new report published by the Media Standards Trust finds that:

  • Foreign news coverage across four UK national newspapers has fallen by 40% since 1979 in absolute terms
  • International news makes up only 11% of the national newspapers studied compared to 20% in 1979
  • There has been an 80% drop in the number of foreign news stories within the first 10 pages

Shrinking World: the decline of international reporting in the British press, written by Martin Moore with a foreword by David Loyn, is published by the Media Standards Trust today, Monday 1st November 2010.

The report shows how foreign coverage has declined in absolute and relative terms. The number of international stories published has fallen as newspapers have increased in size. As a consequence, international news stories now make up – on average – just over a tenth of total stories in the four newspapers studied.

The report then explores the reasons for the decline, sketches out our emerging foreign news ecology, and asks whether – in our age of information abundance – it matters.
The findings of the research are given context and colour through a series of interviews with foreign correspondents and experts.

Content analysis

The report’s findings are based on a content analysis of foreign news stories across an average working week in 4 UK national newspapers – The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, and the Mirror - in 1979, 1989, 1999 and 2009 (done at Colindale newspaper library in the first half of 2010).

The report finds that the number of foreign news stories across the four newspapers declined in each decade since 1979: from just over 500 international stories published in the first week of March 1979, to 428 in 1989, to 341 (1999), to 308 (2009).
At the same time the newspapers themselves were getting larger, meaning that as a proportion of the print paper international news shrank from 20% to 16% to 13% to 11%.

David Loyn, foreign correspondent at the BBC who wrote the foreword to the report, said: “The decline in red top tabloids shown in this MST report is perhaps no surprise. But the slide in column inches and prominence of foreign stories among the ‘broadsheets’ should ring alarm bells.”

Martin Moore, author of the report and director of the Media Standards Trust, said: “The slump in foreign correspondence catalogued in this report is significant but not terminal. Newspapers still have a great opportunity to reinvent international reporting, but they better move quickly or they’ll be superseded”.

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