Attitudes towards humanitarian news within the aid sector: Survey results

Martin Scott

May 1, 2018


By Martin Scott (@martinscott2010). How do those involved with or interested in the aid sector view media coverage of humanitarian issues globally? What are their main sources of news and information and how useful do they find them? What impact, if any, does news coverage have on their work?

We worked with IRIN News to help to answer these questions. In January 2018, IRIN carried out a survey of individuals who were either directly or indirectly involved in the aid or development sector, including both IRIN readers and non-readers*. In total, 1626 respondents completed the survey, including individuals working for International NGOs (28%), the United Nations (9%), academia (9%), national or local NGOs (8%), government organisations (8%) and in the corporate sector (5%).

See here for the full report: Attitudes Towards Humanitarian News 2018

See here the joint press release with IRIN News: Attitudes Towards Humanitarian News – Press Release


  1. There is widespread dissatisfaction within the aid industry with the quantity and quality of mainstream news coverage of humanitarian issues and crises.
    1. 73% of respondents agreed that mainstream news media does not produce enough coverage of humanitarian issues.
    2. Mainstream news coverage was also regularly criticised for being selective, sporadic, simplistic and partial.
  2. Those involved with or interested in the aid sector rely on a very small number of mainstream news outlets for their news about humanitarian issues: primarily the BBC, The Guardian and Al Jazeera English.
  3. The most commonly used specialist news outlets are Reliefweb, IRIN, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Foreign Policy, UN Dispatch, Devex and News Deeply, although none dominates.
  4. There is a significant discrepancy between the perceived importance of investigative journalism and consistent coverage of ongoing crises, and the news media’s performance in delivering such content. Both are highly valued, but neither are understood to be well provided.
  5. Solutions-oriented coverage and ‘early warning’ reporting were perceived to be the worst performing aspect of the news that respondents consume. However, both were also judged to be amongst the least valued aspects of news coverage.
  6. Breaking news is the best performing aspect of the news that respondents consume, but also the least valued.
  7. Expert analysis is the most highly valued aspect of humanitarian news coverage and respondents felt their current sources of news performed relatively well in this area.
  8. Respondents did not have a strong preference for news with a very specific geographic or thematic focus.
  9. Respondents claimed to care far more about the depth and detail of news content, than its presentation.
  10. News can play an important role in shaping the work of those working in the aid industry, most commonly by stimulating further research and/or advocacy and by informing organisational or operational priorities.

* It is important to note that regular readers of IRIN News were over-represented in this sample. 59% claimed to use IRIN either ‘regularly’ or ‘heavily’, whilst 41% used IRIN ‘occasionally’ or ‘never’. Given this will have an effect on some of the results, the key findings above should be read with this in mind. It is also worth noting that this survey was carried out before the widely reported sexual misconduct scandal at Oxfam UK in Haiti.

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1 Comment

  • Jamie McIntosh on May 1, 2018

    Interesting study, even with the caveats. I wonder how the news sources those of us in the humanitarian sector consume relates to the sources which provide coverage of our own activities. Or solicit commentary on current affairs from our vantage point.

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