The Newspaper Society represents the local and regional media which, everyone agrees, are an essential feature of the democratic landscape. The Society tells us that there are 1,100 local and regional newspapers read by nearly 31 million people a week. Local newspapers are said to be more than twice as trusted as any other media channel. Unfortunately, Newspaper Society itself does not deserve the same degree of trust. It has today published the result of a bizarre “survey” of local newspaper editors under the headline “Half of Local Newspaper Editors Say Leveson Inquiry has Damaged Relationship with Readers“.
The headline results are eye catching:
“Nearly half of all editors believe their papers’ relationship with readers had been negatively affected by the Leveson Inquiry. Just 8% of editors believe it is getting easier to get information from local public bodies. More than a quarter of local newspapers have received a threat from a public body to suspend advertising as a result of journalistic activity”.
The eye of the Times was caught and it published an article based on the survey under the headline “Local Press held to ransom after Leveson say editors“.
Details of the Editors Survey have been published in a Research-presentation [ppt]. This contains a number of pie charts and diagrams showing the percentage of editors who take different views on various important issues of the day.
What then was the metholodogy of this important survey of editors’ opinions? This is set out in the last slide:
The NS conducted an online survey of member editors of daily and weekly regional and local newspapers in March 2013, prior to publication of the Government’s Royal Charter for press regulation. 37 editors completed an online questionnaire which was emailed to all editors listed on the NS database.
So, out of 1,100 local and regional newspaper editors, a self-selecting group of 37 answered the survey – for the statistically inclined that is 3.36%. In other words, when the Newspaper Society tells us that 46% of editors believe that their paper’s relationship with readers has been “negatively affected” by the Leveson inquiry, we are talking about 17 editors (that is, 1.54% of the total). Incidentally, 18 editors (that is, 49% of those surveyed) thought that the Leveson inquiry had not affected their relationship with readers) – so, even on the Newspaper Society’s own analysis the presentation of the results are misleading.
A “self selecting” survey of this kind is a classic form of “unscientific survey” (see Peter Kellner’s advice to journalist on polls) – however large the response. The editors who responded were, presumably, those who felt strongly about the issues – the sample is not only very small it is also entirely unrepresentative.
And one further point. The “survey” tells us that
Just eight per cent of editors said it was getting easier to get information from local public bodies, 22 per cent said it was about the same, and 70 per cent said it was getting harder.
What the Newspaper Society does not mention is that when it ran the same survey in 2010, (with a response rate of 63 out of 1,100) the headline results were even worse: in 2010 78% of editors felt that local authorities were becoming more difficult to get information out of. So the position is, in fact improving!
The Newspaper Society has, unfortunately, consistently failed to give a fair representation of the findings of the Leveson inquiry to the public and to its members. It has consistently misunderstood and misrepresented the effect of his recommendations on the local press. This “survey” further distorts the debate. Newspaper Society members are not being well-served by their representative body.