Interest in news wanes globally, but more Australians turn to paid online options: research

New data shows Australians are increasingly turning away from the news, with online news consumption failing to ameliorate the declining uptake of traditional news media.

Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) found in its 2022 Digital News Report, released this week, the spike in news consumption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has diminished, with consumers in 46 countries exhibiting decreased interest in paying for online news.

The report surveyed more than 90,000 people in 46 countries about their digital news consumption, finding evidence that interest in online news is becoming diminutive.

Australian consumers however are paying for online news more than consumers in other countries, with the Digital News Report (DNR): Australia 2022 released by the University of Canberra’s News and Media Research Centre (N&MRC) finding 18% are now paying for news, five points higher than last year and now sitting above the global average (17%).

In the US, 19% of people pay for online news content, RISJ found – a decrease from last year (21%). The average age of a digital news subscriber, across all the countries surveyed in the report is 47.

This global finding is a stark contrast to Australian statistics, that reveal 28% of Millennials are paying for news (up 12 points from last year), as young people in Australia continue to be more likely to pay for their news.

The report surveyed more than 2,038 adult Australian news consumers, who also indicated a waning trust in news. The research showed Australian’s trust in news had fallen slightly to 41% (down two points from last year), returning to its long-term trend.

Interestingly, the report also revealed Australians’ strong distaste in journalists sharing their personal perspectives on social media, with 52% of respondents saying journalists should stick to reporting the news, one-third saying reporters should be able to express their personal opinions on social media, and 14% not knowing.

This particular component of the report was prompted after the ABC’s controversial crackdown on staff’s social media activity, which was incited by Weekend Breakfast co-host Fauziah Ibrahim’s suspension from on-air activities after her Twitter history revealed lists titled “Labor Trolls/Thugs and Lobotomised Shitheads”.

Additionally, only 15% of respondents say they follow specific journalists, with a great deal more attention being paid to the media brands reporting the news, as opposed to the individual journalists.

Fatigue, distrust and disillusionment abound

Australian consumer behaviour reflects the globally proliferating trend of ‘news avoidance’, as evidenced in the RISJ report. The proportion that says they avoid the news, sometimes or often, has doubled in Brazil (54%) and the UK (46%) since 2017 — and also increased in all other markets,” the authors write. In the US, the increase is smaller: 42% of US respondents said that they “sometimes or often actively avoid the news” in 2022, up from 38% in 2017.

The most common reasons for news avoidance are as follows:

  • too much politics and COVID-19 (43%)
  • news has a negative effect on mood (36%)
  • worn out by the amount of news (29%)
  • news is untrustworthy or biased (29%)
  • leads to arguments I’d rather avoid (17%)
  • there is nothing I can do with the information (16%)

Ultimately, the data reflects surging, widespread sentiments of helplessness, distrust, fatigue, conflict, and disconnection amongst consumers of news globally.

Australian figures also reflect the global trend of news avoidance. The N&MRC report found that more than two-thirds of respondents now actively avoid the news, which is an increase of 11% since 2017 – this could have something to do with more Australians encountering COVID-19 misinformation than last year (42%, +4), with more than half (51%) of Gen Z saying they came across Covid-19 misinformation in the last week.

“COVID-19 was an opportunity for news media to pause sensationalism and regain trust. However, this trust was not sustained,” said DNR author Dr Sora Park.

“Many Australians do not believe news media are independent, or that they put society first. And these perceptions are linked to a deep cynicism and mistrust in news.”

The proliferation of digital platforms that essentially enable unvetted individuals to be ‘publishers’ in their own right (most retaining a greater degree of cultural and utilitarian familiarity to the Gen Z audience) may be a cause of the demographic’s higher probability to encounter misinformation and fake news, COVID-related and otherwise.

This may relate to the trend of decreased usage of social media for news by Gen Z as evidenced in the report. While social media remains Gen Z’s main source of news (46%), use of social media as a source for news fell by 8% compared to the 2021 report.

The fall of Facebook

The use of social media as a main source of news by Australians as a whole fell to 19% from last year (-4), and Facebook’s popularity as a place to get news has also fallen further (31%, -2).

Globally, usage of Facebook as a news source has fallen off. Facebook does remain the social network where most people get news, although figures are down 12 percentage points since 2016.

Meta has maintained its strident refusal to remove climate change misinformation altogether, while publishers like Pinterest have taken firm stances against it, enacting policies to ban climate-related misinformation on the platform. Meta’s resistance toward policies that combat climate misinformation may contribute to decreased usage in the platform, and widespread sentiments of minimal credibility within the platform.

More locally, a mere one third of Australians are interested in news about environment and climate change, with one in five reporting they don’t listen to news of that nature.

The N&MRC report found the two main predictors of disengagement are age and political orientation, as those over 76-years-old and identifying as right-wing are most likely to disengage (35% and 29%), revealing that political orientation can influence likelihood of individual news consumption.


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