DIGITAL NUMBERS: What public sector comms need to know about the 2020 Reuters Institute Digital News Report

There is nothing so terrible as activity without insight, Goethe once wrote.

A scientist and a poet the German would have been the ideal communicator mixing hard numbers with poetry that could make your heart sing.

Numbers and stories are what’s at the heart of the Reuters Institute for Journalism Digital News Report.

What does that matter to public sector communicators?

It matters for several reasons. Media relations remain an important plank of how any organisation communicates with its publics. But beyond that, there is such crossover between journalism and communications. Both sides are trying to make sense of the changing landscape.

The Reuters study gives a useful snapshot of how people are consuming news. While its a global study there is plenty of UK data.

What’s to learn from the Reuters study

Most people don’t care about local news. Less than a third of people in the UK rank themselves as interested in local news. Public sector takeout: Think of other ways to engage people.

In the UK, COVID-19 has affected news patterns. TV news is more popular, print has dropped even further. Public sector takeout: the old regime is changing even faster.

Five times as many people use WhatsApp than read a newspaper in print or online. This bit of detail is huge. So huge in fact that I’m going to post a link to my comms chums I’m in WhatsApp groups with. But I’ll need to read the WhatsApp’d link from my brother first. UK WhatsApp use is 56 per cent against a newspaper readership of nine per cent. Almost as many – seven per cent – deliberately use it for news. Public sector takeout: WhatsApp has really developed as a place where people consume. Organisations need to think of ways to use it effectively.

Closed groups are huge. In the UK during COVID-19, 51 per cent of people are using a closed Facebook group or a closed platform like Messenger or WhatsApp. Public sector takeout: How the public sector gets its messages into closed groups is a topic we’re only starting to wake-up to.

Facebook groups on their own are huge. Globally, almost a third – 31 per cent – use Facebook groups for local news and information. Public sector takeout: it’s not enough to ignore Facebook groups.

Overall, trust in news has fallen significantly. A drop of 12 per cent in 12 months is significant. Public sector takeout: Fewer people trust the news they consume.

The BBC remains the most trusted news brand in the UK. While its news rooms diminish its reputation still remains. A total of 64 per cent trusted the BBC just ahead of ITV news (60 per cent). The Sun is trusted by 16 per cent. Public sector takeout: time spent on TV or radio interviews is worthwhile.

Local news titles are strongly trusted. At 55 per cent the local newspaper sits just behind the BBC in terms of trust. That’s music to the ears of the remaining journalists. Public sector takeout: Those that consume it value it, the only problem is not enough are.

Local newspapers’ print edition reach nine per cent of the population. Less than a tenth of the population get news printed on newspaper. So, a borough of 100,000 will see less than 10,000 reading all about it. Public sector takeout: Print gets even less important.

Local newspapers’ website reaches nine per cent of the population. Just as many people go online for their local news than buy the edition at the news stand. Public sector takeout: Local news on the web is important.

Most people get their news online and social media and over a smartphone. Over the past seven years, the web has overtaken the once all-powerful TV and print as the place where people source their news. A total of 77 per cent get their headlines online. Public sector takeout: News needs to work online above all. Content that works on the web should trump everything. So, skills to create online content should trump press release writing ability.

Facebook dominates online news. A total of 24 per cent of the UK population get news from Mark Zuckerburg’s platform. Second largest is Twitter on 14 per cent and then in third place YouTube with seven per cent. Public sector takeout: Facebook is your news priority.

People don’t start with the news website. Battling over whether or not to put news on your homepage? Meh. Only 28 per cent head to an app or website. Public sector takeout: Stop stressing about news on the homepage. That’s not where people start their journey.

They trust the doctor not the politician. Doctors are trusted by 83 per cent, health organisations by 76 per cent, national government by 59 per cent and politicians by 35 per cent. Public sector takeout: The human being talking is a lot more effective than the cabinet member. This reinforces and updates what we already know.

Everyone is worried about misinformation but it’s whether you are left or right depends on who you blame. The left in the UK at 61 per cent blames politicians. That’s six times as many who blame journalists. On the right, the gap is closer with a 27 to 11 per cent lead for blaming politicians. Public sector takeout: It doesn’t matter if we are left or right, politicians are blamed most for misinformation.

Smart speakers are used for news by in the UK one in five. More use this than in other countries. Public sector take-out: Can your news reach people on a smart speaker?

News emails are used by 38 per cent in the UK. The average is three subscriptions. Public sector take-out: Hows your email content?

Young people aged 18 to 24 use Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok as a source of news during the pandemic. In the UK, 24 per cent went to Instagram pipping Snapchat on 19 per cent and TikTok on six per cent. Public sector takeout: if you want to talk to this demographic these three are important.

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WINTER COMMS part 2: Using a Twitter thread to communicate a complex point

It’s the winter and of course the council never treated the roads. Ever.

Only thing is, yes, they do. But icy blasts can see things deteriorate quickly.

Perth & Kinros Council made that very point using a Twitter thread. This is the convention of linking a series of tweets. For me, this functionality is a gamechanger as it moves things from 140 characters to as many characters as you like.

They used two shots from a traffic camera. One to show you the road conditions shortly after the gritter passed and then a new shot 45-minutes later. They used GIFs in addition to sugar the pill and reinforce their points.

So far so good. Now the first image. The road that’s just been cleared.

Then a GIF that illustrates snow.

Now the second picture of the same scene less than hour later.

Now the two of them side by side.

And a round of applause for those doing the hard work.

A complex point simply executed. Bravo Perth & Kinross Council. Well done their comms officer Lisa Potter.

BEING HUMAN: The first 30 days of human comms… and what I’ve learned


When I started on a whim to blog #30daysofhumancomms it was to collect together some examples of human content that worked for me.

There were about half a dozen that had stuck in my memory and I’d hoped with a prevailing wind this could stretch to 30. Maybe.

But as I added more I spotted more and more people – thank you – came up with alternatives.

Over the course of the month a staggering 10,000 unique users came and read the content. Thank you for stopping by, for sharing and for coming up with suggestions.

I’ll continue the series

Not every day but because I keep finding things I’ll continue. Because they keep cropping up.

Why human comms?

The best content is the right thing in the right place at the right time. Yes, I get the need for evaluated calls to action. It’s not how many people see it. It’s what people did as a result of seeing it. So important. But if you don’t have an audience in the first place you’ve got nothing. If all your audience get are calls to actions you are not social. You are a pizza delivery company stuffing leaflets through the digital door. This is where the Paretto principle comms in in social media. If 80 per cent of your content is human and engaging this earns the right 20 per cent of the time to ask them to do something. It’s something I strongly believe in.

What have I learned blogging human comms for 30 days

Examples don’t take long to blog.

People respond to them.

They are the secret sauce that makes social media accounts work.

You know them when you see them.

They don’t just exist as a snappy tweet but can be a poster, a media comment, an interview or can be on Facebook too. Often they are not things thought up by comms at all.

What is striking seeing them together is seeing so many on Twitter and in the coming series I’ll look out for other channels, too.

31 days of human comms listed by subject area

Twitter update

  1. Hampshire Fire & Rescue’s rescued bench tweet. See here.
  2. Doncaster Council’s thread for their gritter World Cup. See here.
  3. London Fire Brigade remember the Kings Cross Fire. See here.
  4. Thames Valley Police’s drugs find. See here.
  5. Cardiff Council’s GIF traffic warning. See here.
  6. The Yorkshire motorway police officer and his wife. See here.
  7. The @farmersoftheuk Twitter account. See here.
  8. Lochaber & Skype Police talk to someone at risk of domestic abuse. See here.
  9. Kirklees Council’s GIF that reminds people that gritter drivers are human too. See here.
  10. London Midland sign-off. See here.
  11. The NHS Trust with a sense of humour. See here.


  1. Doncaster Council and Jake the sweet sweeper driver. See here.
  2. The basketball playing Gainesville Police officer. See here.
  3. Sandwell Council as car share for #ourday. See here.
  4. Burger King tackles the bullies. See here.
  5. Sefton Council’s message on a national subject. See here.
  6. Bath & North East Somersets singing food hygiene certificates. See here.
  7. A Welsh hardware shop’s Christmas advert. See here.
  8. Dorset police’s Christmas somg. See here.

Facebook update

  1. Sydney Ferries name their new boat Ferry McFerry Face. See here.
  2. Queensland Ambulance Service takes a dying patient to the ocean a final time. See here.
  3. A missing dog pic from New Forest District Council. See here.

Customer service

  1. Edinburgh Council’s out-of-hours Twitter. See here.
  2. The human railway conductor’s announcements. See here.

Stopping your job to being human

  1. The busking police officer. See here.

Media interviews

  1. A newspaper interview with medics who treated Manchester bomb patients. See here.

Media comment

  1. North West Ambulance Service’s response to a man abusing a paramedic. See here.

Posters and signs

  1. Dudley Council’s spoiled tea sign. See here.
  2. Welcome to Helsinki place marketing. See here.
  3. Virgin Trains’ new trains poster. See here.


  1. The BBC respond to The Sun newspaper. See here.

If you have a suggestion I’d love to hear from you. Drop a note in the comments or @danslee on Twitter.

NICE, NICE BABY: Seven examples of good icy weather comms


Oh, the weather outside is frightful… and its the time to baton down the hatches.

If local government can get icy weather comms right they can keep people happy.

Here is a round-up of some content that worked well:

The myth-busting web page

There is a regular set of moans. You weren’t out. You didn’t grit. You didn’t grit enough. Having a web page like this is an excellent resource to have at your finger-tips. You can see it here.


The video from the cab of the gritter

It’s a video that is the perfect length to work on Twitter. Less than 20 seconds and shoots down the allegation that there were no gritters out. Great work.

The snowman post

This post from the Mayor of Walsall asks people to chip in with their snowmen pics. It prompted people to respond with images from across the borough.

The video of the gritters heading out

This is perfect. Gritters loaded up and heading for the exit at the gritting depot. Evidence that the work is taking place.

The shared hashtag and the conversational response

The #wmgrit hashtag works in the West Midlands as a 20 minute journey can cut through two or three council areas. So 10 councils have joined together to share the searchable hashtag.

The news jacking of the big event

Ahead of the Merseyside derby Liverpool Council were telling people of the work that is going to take place to keep the game running smoothly. It fills a vacuum and was well shared.

Getting the message out early

With cold weather ahead this tweet to ask people to look after each other was well recieved.

Thanks to Viki Harris, Andrew Napier, Liz Grieve, Kelly Thompson, Paul Johnston and Dawn McGuigan.

30 days of human comms #29 Kirklees Council’s GIF to remind people that gritter drivers are human too

There’s an easy target when the snow falls. It’s the council’s fault that the roads were not gritted fast enough, thickly enough or enough times.

On the very pointy part of the sharp end are the gritter drivers who have to be up and out.

This tweet and GIF from Kirklees Council is a reminder that those at the wheel are human too:


30 days of human comms: #28 A newspaper interview with medics who treated Manchester bomb patients


So far in the round-up of human comms we’ve looked at digital content that the organisation has shaped itself. But it doesn’t have to be digital to be human.

More than 20 people were killed in the Manchester Arena bomb earlier this year.

Manchester as a city rallied and there was an outpouring of pride and determination.

Leading all that was the public sector across the city with police, paramedics, hospital staff, fire and the Mayor’s office.

In the very front line in all this were the paramedics and the hospital staff.

In the weeks after the bombing, the Press attention turned from the immediate impact to the stories of survival and recovery. Requests for interviews were made. But not all requests for granted.

Careful handling by Salford Royal hospital’s comms team led to a set of interviews and pictures with the local newspaper the Manchester Evening News. You can see the full story here.

Human comms is not just what you create but also what the Press can create with you.

Be more human. Like the A&S staff of Salford Royal.

30 days of human comms: #27 Lochaber & Skye Police talk to someone at risk of domestic abuse

A while back a colleague ran a campaign against domestic violence that stays with me. 

They researched how best they could reach women in particular who are at risk and the men – and it is often men – who are the perpetrators.

Their research showed that beer mats were a way of reaching people.

I remembered this when I saw these tweets from Lochaber & Skye Police to someone who was following their account. They are written as a letter and they’re written in a thread.

And then a second tweet.

And a final tweet.

A deeply personal message written in plain English. It’s so beautiful it’s poetry.

Be more human. Like Lochaber & Skye Police.


30 days of human comms #25 the Yorkshire motorway police officer and his wife

A while back someone asked what the point of having more than the corporate account was.

Sure, the corporate account can do much but sharing  the sweets and giving the right tools to people on the frontline can be hugely effective. They can post updates on breaking incidents to help keep the traffic moving.

An example of this is the motorway police officer PC Martin Willis captured holding on Superman-style to a van that was about to topple over and roll down an embankment with the driver trapped inside.

It’s by having the tools for the officer to communicate that that the story could be told.

A beautifully human tweet? The cherry was put on top of the cake by the officer’s wife who spoke of how proud she was.

Often police officers can seem remote when they are human beings doing an often difficult job.

Be more human. Like the motorway police officer and his wife.

Thanks to Ben Proctor for spotting this.

30 days of human comms #19 Bath & North East Somerset’s singing food hygiene certificates

There was a curry house when I worked as a reporter who used to ring up every week to try and get into the paper.

This ranged from the actually newsy, like fundraising for Children in Need, to the not quite so, like we have a food hygiene certificate. Back then everyone used to have them. But then came the one to five start ratings for hygiene. They became something to shout about.

One council in the South West has thought-up a new way to shout about these certificates. Send out the environmental health officer to sing a Christmas carol with them.

So, on the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me a certificate with five stars on it.

A daft but effective way of celebrating a top score on what can be an important yet routine piece of legislation. Good work Dan Cattanach.

COMMS GIFTS: Creative present ideas for comms, PR and digital people


We’ve all been there… what do you by the PR and comms person for Christmas? Or birthday? Or as a leaving present?

Here are a few ideas that could help solve your present buying dilemma. Secret Santa? Something substantial? There are a pile of ideas that could help you. A big shout to the members of the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group for their input. Full credits at the bottom of the post.

Less than £5

STATIONERY: This meeting should have been an email pen. Buy it here.

BOOK: Tubesperation. Using the London Underground to come up with creative idea.

Around £5

TECH GEAR: A handy tool to help you film or take pictures with your smartphone.

SOFT FURNISHINGS: Typewriter cushion. For helping you bang your head against in safety.

BOOK: Fucking Apostrophes book. For the grammar geek in your life.

Google cardboard. Have a look at what the future looks like.

HEALTH: Stress Paul. Your handy person to squash if you need to vent spleen.

BOOK: Anarchists in the Boadroom by Liam Barrington-Bush. For when you want to think creatively on how to connect and how to understand networks.

Around £10

STATIONERY: Moleskine ruled notebook. For those creative ideas.

BOOK: Potty, Fartwell & Knob. True names that will take your mind off that comms plan or logo competition for children request.

STATIONERY: Creative post-it notes.

MUG: Grammar grumbles mugs. For the grammar nazi in your life. Buy it here.

CREATIVE: Artefact cards. Cards to help you comms plan and think creatively. Buy them here.

BOOK: Inside the Nudge Unit. An account of life in the unit that has changed how organisations look to engage with people.

TEA: Calm the fukc down tea. Herbal tea. Buy them here.

MUG: : First I drink the coffee then I do things. Buy it here.

BOOK: Think Small. A book to help you achieve goals.

BOOK: PR is Dead by Robert Phillips

OFFICE: Icon cable ties. Tidy up all those leads and cables.

Between £10 and £20

BOOK: SEO for Dummies. Understand an often overlooked skill.

More than £20

CARD GAME: Cards Against Humanity.

CALENDAR: Comms cartoon calendar by Helen Reynolds. Buy it here.

T-SHIRT: Being a Communications Manager is Easy. It’s like riding a bike. Only the bike is on fire and you’re in hell. Buy it here.

GAME: Shit Happens card game. Buy it here.

TECH GADGET: A smartphone projector. For when you want to watch the youtube clip with a bigger audience.

DRINK: Bombay Saphire Gin gift pack. Because people from the South Coast seem to quite like gin.

CAFFEINE: Stove-top espresso maker. Start your day with a jolt.

Big shout for ideas and inspiration to Eddie Coates-Madden, Sally Northeast, Vanessa Andrews, Penny Allison, Phil Hodgson, Hayley Douglas, Paul Compton, Jane Slavin, Sara Hamilton, Rachel King, Lisa Potter, Shevaughan Tolbutt, James Allen, Clare Parker, Nicole Crosby-McKenna, Louise Powney, Sian Williams, Emma Wild, Ruth Fry, Paul Coxon, Heather Heaton-Gallagher, Georgia Turner, Ian Mountford, David Bell, Vanessa Andrews, Jude Tidder and members of the Public Sector Headspace Facebook group.

Picture credit: David Mulder / Flickr