The London newspaper bias: half of "national" news is about the south east

After surveying the regional bias of eight national newspapers over the course of two weeks, we found that 49.1 per cent of supposedly regionally-based news is focused on London and the south east.

When Helen Pidd took over as the Guardian’s only “Northern Editor” in January of this year, she quickly conceded that the job is “far too much for one person to do”. You don’t say. Alongside politics, business, law, sport and more, the printed press is just another industry indulging in a sycophantic obsession with the south east.

What’s more, I can prove it.

For ten weekdays in two consecutive weeks at the end of July, I monitored the regional bias of ‘national’ newspaper coverage. Looking at the eight most renowned national daily papers (The Mail, Independent, Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Sun, Mirror, and Express), I noted down which region each article covered. The results are depressingly predictable.

Even excluding stories covering Westminster, 49.1 per cent of articles which were based on a particular region, centred on London and the south east. This region only possesses 26.6 per cent of the national population.

With the exception of the north west (which actually received slightly too much coverage in proportion to population) and the west and south west (which received marginally less), all other regions were noticeably under-represented.

As a Brummie, I can only bemoan the fact that despite possessing 16 per cent of the UK population, only 11.3 per cent of articles were based on the midlands. The north east received only 2.9 per cent (with 4.1 per cent of the population), the east 4.7 per cent (9.3 per cent of the population), Yorkshire 5.5 per cent (8.4 per cent of the population) and Wales 3.6 per cent (with 4.9 per cent of the population).

Image by Hector Crespo

The nationalistic tendencies of Scotland and Northern Ireland will also surely be aided by the lack of coverage they receive in the so-called ‘national’ press. Despite possessing 8.4 per cent of the UK population, only 2.6 per cent of articles with a regional focus were based on Scotland. Northern Ireland was covered by a mere 0.3 per cent of these articles, while it makes up 2.9 per cent of the UK population.

Although both of these regions have their own strong local press outlets, it’s farcical to label our main newspapers ‘national’ newspapers given these numbers. Plus, why should we assume that the rest of the UK has no interest in the affairs of other regions?

The bias becomes even more apparent when looking at articles with more than 300 words. A staggering 58.6 per cent of these articles were centred on London and the south east. Apparently there aren’t only more stories there, there is also more to say about them.

Perhaps surprisingly, the main offenders were towards the centre and the left of the political spectrum.  An astonishing 70.1 per cent of the Independent’s regionally based articles were centred on the south east. Helen Pidd’s Guardian was an easy second, but can hardly be proud of its 59 per cent. The Mirror boasts the least south east centric approach, yet still, a disproportionate 38.2 per cent of its regionally based coverage centred on the area surrounding the M25.

Of course, the natural counter to such an obvious bias is to argue that newspapers are only reporting where more news occurs. Surely London and the south east have more important institutions, more famous people, more significant events? Surely all the newspapers are doing are reflecting a broader structural concentration of newsworthy stories in the south east?

Well, no. In fact, although there is a lamentable skew of so many industries towards the south east, the newspapers themselves are still biased.

In addition to listing only regional focused articles, I also tallied those national stories which used an example from a particular region - like, for instance, the very national heat-wave we have been treated to this summer. Of these articles, an astonishing 60.1 per cent listed London and the south east as their first example. Despite the fact that the article wasn’t exclusively about the south east, and despite the fact that an example from anywhere else in the UK would have sufficed, newspapers demonstrated an instinctive tendency to prioritise the south east.

Our national newspapers are not only covering a depressingly south east centric nation, they are also depressingly south east centric themselves.

 

Excluding Westminster news, a staggering 49.1 per cent of regionally based stories centered on London and the south east. Picture:Getty Images.
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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.