Fragmented, tribal, overwhelmed and price sensitive. The latest picture of how Australians consume, or don’t consume, news, reveals an increasingly challenging landscape for traditional media sources as young people seek out social media platforms, audiences absorb tailored content and women switch off.
The 2023 University of Canberra Digital News Survey shows a continuing decline in heavy news consumption, down four per cent to 48 per cent, with women at a record low of 43 per cent, revealing a growing gender divide.
Overall, high interest in news in Australia has fallen to 53 per cent, down 11 per cent since 2017.
But lead author Sora Park said the constant was that local news remained Australians’ top preference.
“It is much less for younger people. But still it’s one of the most important news [sectors] people seek but are not getting enough of,” she said.
Despite this demand, regional and local newspapers continue to decline in use (-4%), opening the way for new innovative entrants.
Evidence of fatigue exists in a year dominated by the Ukraine war, politics and the economy, with news avoidance remaining high (69%, +1) and above the global average (63%).
More than half of the respondents say they want positive stories, as well as watchdog journalism and news stories that suggest solutions.
Australians are more likely to avoid social and political stories, which poses a problem for advocacy groups.
More Australians are prepared to pay for their news, which may offer some hope for news sites with pay walls, but at the same time 80 per cent say they are affected by the cost of living crisis and these are more likely to cancel subscriptions.
More than half (53%) say they will never pay for their news.
The top two sites with pay walls are The Australian and The Guardian, reflecting an ideological divide with both audiences seeking what they perceive as quality, trustworthy journalism.
Those most happy to pay are also the biggest supporters of the public broadcasters ABC and SBS.
Trust in the news is up slightly, but for women this fell. Concern about misinformation has also risen to 69 per cent (+5), well above the global average (54%), and these people value public media.
Social media use remains the same but it is diversifying, with the use of Instagram (26%, +6) and TikTok (17%, +4) for news continuing to rise among Gen Z, something news organisations are doing more to tap as Facebook diminishes in importance.
There is concern about the way news is selected, both with the use of algorithms and by editors. But the key appears to be trust.
Ms Park said concern about algorithms was part of a wider concern about news and how it was selected.
“We found that the more you trust news, the more comfortable you are with algorithms or editors choosing your news,” she said.
Many are also worried about missing out on important information due to the personalisation of online news in online environments, with 61 per cent concerned they might miss out on important information and 57 per cent concerned they might not be exposed to challenging viewpoints.
The popularity of podcasts is increasing with 38 per cent saying they have listened to one in the past month, and it’s not just among the young. One in three Gen Xers now listen to news podcasts.
“Overall, the data shows a growing digital news audience where subscriptions are driven by quality, and interest in positive and solutions-focused journalism is strong. But there is also significant complexity, with widening gaps appearing between different segments of news audiences,” the survey’s report stated.