Opinion

Mainstream news outlet readers are happier than their fake news reading counterparts

Tom McGillick investigates the findings of a report which claims mainstream news-reading millennials are happier and more financially stable than their alternative news-loving peers.

Nothing about the current state of news and current affairs gives much cause for optimism. These days, even our most mainstream news outlets regularly eschew impartiality and openly barrack for specific political outcomes, leaving them open to the same accusations of hyper-partisanship that only a few years ago were used to ridicule the most paranoid of fringe digital news titles.

But with print news seemingly too sick to save, and everything that took place to undermine the credibility of mainstream news outlets in the past year alone, it’s surprising to see so little discussion around what effect these trends will have once fully borne out.

When print news is finally dead, and everything that remains is fake, what will happen to us?

To get an idea of where we are heading, a good place to look would be to compare Australians who get the majority of their news from traditional mainstream sources such as television news, or major mastheads either in print or online (we’ll call them traditional news consumers), and those who consume the majority of their news through alternative online sources or social media (we’ll call them alternative news consumers).

The Australian Millennial Report 2018 provides such a comparison, and already it shows that for young Australians 18-35, where we source our news is a strong predictor of how we rate on numerous measures of quality of life, and for alternative news consumers, it’s doesn’t look good.

For instance, according to the report, alternative news consumers are less likely to feel secure in their current job, less likely to live with a partner, less likely to be saving for a home or paying off a mortgage. They are less concerned with preserving the environment, and take less care of their physical and mental health.

What’s more, alternative news consumers, regardless of political leaning, are on average, less optimistic about both their own prospects for success, and the nations prospects of success.

In other words, find a young Australian whose news consumption is reflective of where we’re headed, and they’re more likely to be languishing, maybe in a number of ways, they’re probably personally pessimistic, and it’s likely they feel the country is on the wrong track.

People who still get their news from traditional, mainstream sources are not only happier, they appear to be better citizens in a number of different ways.

Which group do you think is more likely to agree with the statements “I volunteer in my community”, or “the most important characteristic in a career is the ability to help others”? It’s the traditional news consumers.

Unfortunately, this group is threatened on two fronts. Their numbers are falling, and the mainstream sources they follow come to resemble alternative sources more closely with each passing news cycle.

How big are these groups right now? The same report shows that today, traditional news consumers make up approximately 43.6% of Australians aged 18-35, while alternative news consumers account for 39.15% (a figure that we should expect to increase).

Where do these two groups agree? In their responses to the question: “What is the greatest concern to you when it comes to the media?” Astonishingly, where you get your news isn’t influenced by whether you worry most about “the growth of social media as a news source” (14.7% of alternatives, 16.57% for traditionals), or “the proliferation of misleading news sources or fake news” (29% for alternatives, 30.7% for traditionals).

Assuming young Australians aren’t deliberately seeking out what they know to be fake news, that means we are at the stage where the young people most wary of being misled no longer favour traditional news sources or the mainstream media.

Right now, traditional news consumers appear to be having a better time in modern Australia, but alternative news sources probably aren’t the cause of any person’s job insecurity, and you don’t have to get your news from Facebook to be a climate sceptic.

So what happens when print news is finally dead, and everything that remains is fake? When we’re all alternative news consumers?

We’ll probably all be a bit miserable.

Tom McGillick is the co-author of the Australian Millennial Report 2018 at The Strategies.

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