Digital News Report shows huge drop in newspaper readers, no desire to pay for news

Genevieve Jacobs 30 June 2021 30
Newspapers resting on laptop computer

Newspaper readership continues to decline according to the seventh edition of the University of Canberra’s Digital News Report. Photo: File.

Print news consumption has halved since 2016, and more people than ever are accessing their news digitally and though social media according to an annual report from the University of Canberra’s News and Media Research Centre.

However, there’s still an urgent need for professional journalism, and consumers want their news to be balanced and accurate, the seventh edition of the Digital News Report found.

The online survey of more than 2000 adult Australians found that around 80 per cent of respondents said they have not read a newspaper or news magazine in the past week, although 81 per cent of Australians access information about their local community regularly.

Only four per cent of respondents said that print publications are their primary news source, and the number of people reading their local papers has dropped from 19 per cent to 11 per cent during the past five years, perhaps also reflecting the precipitous decline in local mastheads.

But the study also found there has been no increase in the number of Australians paying for news, although many traditional news mastheads have also introduced paywalls on their digital sites.

The dramatic decline in print figures extended to people’s engagement with other traditional media sources, including television and radio news.

“During the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic, news consumption surged because people were thirsty for up-to-date information regarding the virus, and trust went up as well,” said Professor Sora Park, who is an Associate Dean of Research at the University of Canberra’s Faculty of Arts and Design.

“But this year’s report survey was conducted in January and February. After several lockdowns, people’s trust went down again as their news consumption declined even more as news media went back to their usual habits of sensationalising content.”

One of the report’s most interesting findings is that respondents strongly indicated a preference for impartial, balanced and non-partisan news, despite global trends in the media towards opinion based content.

“There may be people who will pay for opinions and partisan news, but it’s a small fraction of audience,” said Professor Park.

“The majority want their news to be free, and while they might be willing to pay for news that suits their own positions or more in-depth coverage of certain interest areas, that’s definitely not true of the majority of news consumers.”

At a local level, Professor Park said there is still a strong focus on traditional news topics although interest in court reporting and local politics has declined slightly in favour of local information about events, weather, jobs and education issues.

But while television, radio and print audiences have also declined, the report says digital audiences continue to grow, via Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms. Digital consumers now increasingly include older Australians, although Professor Park cautioned that much of this news access is incidental.

“During the years, Facebook use has grown slightly, but people are really concerned about misinformation on Facebook,” she said.

There’s also some transfer to other digital platforms, including WhatsApp and TikTok, even among older generations.

Professor Park said that while social media provides a pathway to news sites, it does not and cannot replace local news sources.

“Facebook doesn’t replace journalists in local communities who understand the issues and are professionals,” she said.

“In local areas where there is no other way to get information, social media is a stopgap, but it’s often not professionally produced and there’s a real risk that it could be gossip without filtering devices.

“There is a huge gap in regional Australia if news companies close down because we lose accountability.”

Professor Park believes local media has reached a crossroads for its future unless there is immediate action.

“News businesses are struggling to find a sustainable financial model and most regional media has not been successful in doing so,” she said.

“Either we recover and provide news for citizens, or we don’t, which is detrimental to our democracy.”

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30 Responses to Digital News Report shows huge drop in newspaper readers, no desire to pay for news
Futureproof Futureproof 9:00 am 03 Jul 21

Online news or print news – all I see is poor journalism, whether Murdoch rags, Fairfax or the ABC. Sensationalist tripe scraped from twitter feeds is not news

billyates1955 billyates1955 7:02 am 03 Jul 21

I’m happier to access the news via my phone or Tablet. Much easier to carry around than a bulky NewsPaper and the digital news is usually more up to date. Newspapers are Yesterday’s story.

Finally Relented Finally Relented 4:08 pm 02 Jul 21

I’d like to support the local Canberra Times but don’t want to pay for what I don’t read. Subscription was over $200pa. Asked about tiered subscrition and there is apparently a $20ish per month NON DIGITAL tier then goes way up from there. Considering I couldn’t give 2 hoots about sport stories, finance elsewhere – just after the local stuff so way too expensive. No wonder people don’t want to pay.

    brucewantstobecool brucewantstobecool 7:38 pm 02 Jul 21

    Less than a dollar a day per year to support the local journalism you crave is “too much”? The Crimes leaves a lot to be desired, but it would truly be run by monkeys if we all only paid in peanuts.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:07 pm 02 Jul 21

    While ownership of the Canberra Times changed the resident lefty editorial staff stayed there. There is also more opinion than news. I was a subscriber for 30 years but I could no longer see any value in it.

Sally Greenaway Sally Greenaway 3:29 am 02 Jul 21

I literally subscribed to something last month, because it was cheap as, and it's content/news I actually wanted to keep abreast of

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:40 pm 01 Jul 21

“But this year’s report survey was conducted in January and February. After several lockdowns, people’s trust went down again as their news consumption declined even more as news media went back to their usual habits of sensationalising content.”

It may not last, but over the last week, or so, there have been some small, encouraging signs with the mainstream media summoning up a little bit of courage and departing from their standard positions (ABC and Nine-Fairfax/Ten blame everything on Morrison and Sky blame it all on Andrews and some of the other state leaders).

As part of this, there has been a very welcome (but still quite timid) preparedness to move beyond the role of unquestioning mouthpieces for whatever is dished up, particularly by state and territory leaders, on the basis of “medical advice”. The public split in medical opinion over AstraZeneca for under 40s, and the now apparent subjectivity of judgements about who is a close contact or a casual contact, depending on whether they are a member of the general public or a state minister, has certainly kicked this along.

Whether this rediscovered courage and commitment to reporting unpalatable and inconvenient truths will be enough to slow the decline in public interest and trust in the media remains to be seen, but we should hope so – the imbalance between the media/spin resources of governments with bottomless pockets and the struggling media is already a serious problem for what’s left of our democracy.

Doug Jackson Doug Jackson 5:41 pm 01 Jul 21

News *PAPER* is so totally yesterday.

jessie jessie 3:47 pm 01 Jul 21

Balance and accuracy ?. Hope the people who produce The Canberra Times read this.

Tom Dale Tom Dale 3:15 pm 01 Jul 21

If ever there was an example of too much opinion and not enough reporting it has been coverage of the pandemic.

Tom Adam Tom Adam 2:03 pm 01 Jul 21

I would have to say the majority of people I’ve spoken to about this have said they don’t want to pay for partisan editorial (as per this article).

So is it time for a new model? Perhaps taking profit out of news is best, a non-for-profit model that can seek funding from the government “legitimately” (not counting the SkyNews deal rubbish).

    Larry Larkin Larry Larkin 7:39 pm 01 Jul 21

    What, you mean like the extremely partisan, in breach of it's Charter, ABC?

    Because that is exactly what the ABC is, and if held to it's Charter nobody would be whingeing about it, except maybe the extreme left.

    Tom Adam Tom Adam 8:00 pm 01 Jul 21

    Larry, they always complain it’s partisan to the other side - whomever is in power

    Larry Larkin Larry Larkin 8:10 pm 01 Jul 21

    Tom Adam When a Labor PM, to whit Bob Hawke, complains that the ABC is too far to the left you know it's bad.

    And it's gotten worse since.

    Tom Adam Tom Adam 8:20 pm 01 Jul 21

    Larry, suppose they’re balancing out SkyNews

    Larry Larkin Larry Larkin 8:33 pm 01 Jul 21

    Tom Adam But I'm not paying for SkyNews, I am for the ABC.

    And the ABC went wayyyyy left well before SkyNews was even a dream.

    And SkyNews is far more balanced than the ABC, as evidenced by someone like Nicholas Reece co-hosting a show, and Labor figures like Graeme Richardson and Kristina Kenneally having done the same.

    Tom Adam Tom Adam 8:39 pm 01 Jul 21

    Larry, haha 😂 yes you are paying for SkyNews. Dig deeper

    Larry Larkin Larry Larkin 8:43 pm 01 Jul 21

    Tom Adam What? It's coming out of my taxes?

    Back in the '90s I worked with a number of Labor voting ex-ABC journalists who had left the organisation because it had become so left wing biased, and knew and drank with a few more who had either done the same, or were about to, for the same reason.

    When an ABC news team films what is in essence a promotional video for the ALP, and the 7:00 News producer runs it as a piece of news, you know where it's coming from.

    And they did that during Keating's "unwinnable" election, where their full blown biased coverage, amounting to tax payer funded ALP political campaign ads, played a big part in the ALP retaining government.

    They've gotten worse since.

    Tom Adam Tom Adam 8:52 pm 01 Jul 21

    Larry, public funds were used to (forced to be used for) the purchasing of the Fox Cable network for the NBN. (Most of which had to be replaced).

    Sky News doesn’t make money directly it makes it through the Fox network so when the Fox network gets a sports Grant to present sports it’s getting paid for sky News

    Larry Larkin Larry Larkin 8:58 pm 01 Jul 21

    Tom Adam I'm sorry, but Fox Sports pays for the broad and narrow cast rights to sports, it doesn't get paid by the Govt to do so.

    Tom Adam Tom Adam 9:05 pm 01 Jul 21


    I’ll just leave this here:

Gabriel Spacca Gabriel Spacca 12:36 pm 01 Jul 21

So people are worried about Facebook, but when Facebook recently stopped Australian news sites you’d think the apocalypse had descended.

That event showed that Australians are willing to pay for news. They may not realise they’re paying, and that the method of payment is not currency but their personal data, but they are paying.

    Daniel Oyston Daniel Oyston 1:52 pm 01 Jul 21

    That's not 'paying', that's called a value exchange.

    Mick Crossman Mick Crossman 2:57 pm 01 Jul 21

    Daniel Oyston every payment is a value exchange.

    Daniel Oyston Daniel Oyston 2:58 pm 01 Jul 21

    Mick Crossman correct, but not every value exchange is a payment

    Mick Crossman Mick Crossman 2:59 pm 01 Jul 21

    Daniel Oyston if you’re limiting your definition of payment to a currency exchange.

Shane Nayler Shane Nayler 12:14 pm 01 Jul 21

But sales are up right? With all the panic buyers buying all the TP in the country.

Martin Budden Martin Budden 11:40 am 01 Jul 21

This is why funding the ABC properly is so important.

Janet Ilchef Janet Ilchef 11:17 am 01 Jul 21

How does the overall poorer quality of journalism affect readers?

nobody nobody 10:26 am 01 Jul 21

“One of the report’s most interesting findings is that respondents strongly indicated a preference for impartial, balanced and non-partisan news, despite global trends in the media towards opinion based content.”
I hope the activist “journalists” of this publication take note.

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