When countries locked down people flocked online to get the latest news. All types of media saw huge spikes, but independent media and fact-checkers saw by far the biggest.

Last week we took a look at how the March traffic bump experienced by media across the world played out among European countries and types of publication. 

The results showed a wide disparity between countries, with those that locked down earlier (and/ or saw more cases) experiencing a much steeper increase in traffic. Media in France, Italy, Spain and Ukraine all saw jumps of over 50%, with Spain and Ukraine being above 70%.

(Note: this was based on SimilarWeb data for a small sample of outlets – for the full discussion on methodology and findings see our earlier article). 

Similarly, the type of media outlet played a big role. Tabloids generally fared poorly, with 10-30% traffic spikes, followed by “leaning right” media. 

On the other hand, public broadcasters and left-leaning media did exceptionally well, suggesting people found them more trustworthy and hence a more fitting source for information during a global pandemic. 

That brings us to the question – how did independent/ community media do? And, for that matter, what about fact-checkers? 

Source: The Fix Research

First, let’s briefly go over the typical problem in discussing independent media – namely that “independent” is kind of meaningless (it’s also not particularly helpful for audiences either). Without going through all the arguments, let’s just say we assumed that media that are reader-funded (or donor-funded with some reader contributions), and not part of a large conglomerate, fit the bill.

As previously, we took a media per country (for 10 countries) to get a sense of what was happening across the continent. It’s worth noting that such media tend to be smaller, and with more volatile numbers, so results are just indicative of the general trend. 

That said, the numbers tell a pretty clear story. On average, independent media saw a jump of 79% from February to March – more than even public broadcasters which jumped 65% on average. 

Potentially muddying the numbers is the fact that many of these media have been on a growth trajectory. For example, Germany’s Krautreporter and Czechia’s Denik N (a daughter of the Slovak Dennik N), both grew in February vs. January, while most media shrunk during the shorter and traditionally downbeat month. 

This makes it harder to distinguish the “corona-effect” from the growth trajectory, though COVID-19 undeniably played an overwhelming role (average across Jan-Feb was -9.3%). This suggests that strong audience trust paid off. 

Having found this, we decided to look at another type of player, who should have fared even better during a crisis – namely fact-checkers. So we looked at 10 fact-checking websites (all verified by Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network, which has members in most countries, but not all, which is why we needed to change the list somewhat). 

We expected a strong showing during such uncertain times, but the average 223% (!) increase exceeded even our expectations. 

Moreover, while this was partially the result of a low base – many fact-checkers are relatively niche players, but that’s not really the story. 

Indeed, some of the bigger players saw some of the most impressive jumps – Spain’s maldita.es went from 1.7 million to 9.7 million sessions over a month (!). That’s a +470% increase.

These numbers were far from outliers, Italy’s Pagella Politica rose 260% from 180,000 to 650,000, while the United Kingdom’s Full Fact went from just under one million to above three.

This suggests that pure-play fact-checkers played an important role in spreading verified information, fulfilling the role they were designed for (there have been doubts about their effectiveness, given that they tend to be relatively small vs. mainstream publications). 

Further analysis is needed to break down the implications, but in both cases it seems that the crisis has shown an appetite for new media offering (and a readiness to pay for them – memberships have been on the rise, too). 

A rare piece of positive news in an otherwise grim media landscape.

Here are the media we selected. We tried to balance picking the biggest media (by sessions) for each category, but in some cases preferred to take slightly smaller, but more recognizable options – please send us your feedback. 

Independent/ community: theferret.scot (UK); krautreporter.de (DE); mediapart.fr (FR); dor.ro (RO); denikn.cz (CZ); zetland.dk (DK); slidtsvo.info (UA); krytykapolityczna.pl (PL); infolibre.es (ES); valigiablu.it (IT)

Factcheckers: fullfact.org (UK); correctiv.org (DE), demagog.cz (CZ); elinikahoaxes.gr (GR); faktograf.hr (HR), faktisk (NO); voxukraine.org (UA); demagog.org.pl (PL); maldita.es (ES); poligrafo.sapo.pt (PT); pagellapolitica.it (IT)