14 June 2018

Online news takes over but burned consumers look to trusted sources, UC report finds

| Ian Bushnell
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Once bitten twice shy: those exposed to fake news adopt strategies to manage their exposure to misinformation.

With online news overtaking traditional sources, a growing exposure to ‘fake news’ is undermining trust in news generally and driving consumers to established brands and tailored feeds, according to a new University of Canberra report.

The Digital News Report Australia 2018 published annually by the University of Canberra’s News and Media Research Centre (N&MRC) shows that for the first time, access to online news (82 per cent) has overtaken traditional offline sources such as newspapers, TV and radio (79 per cent).

It says more than three-quarters of Australian news consumers have experienced fake news and while poor journalism, such as factual mistakes and misleading headlines, is the most commonly experienced type (40 per cent), news consumers are most worried about politically and commercially fabricated stories (67 per cent). Those who experience fake news also have lower trust in news generally.

The report, now in its fourth year, is based on a survey of more than 2000 news consumers in Australia and is part of a global study of digital news consumption in 37 countries, commissioned by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • About 45 per cent of Australian news consumers are worried that expressing their political views on social media could change the way their family and friends think about them. This is higher than the global average (38 per cent), with those aged between 25-34 the most concerned age group (58 per cent)
  • Mobile phones (59 per cent) have overtaken computers/laptops as the main way to access online news in Australia
  • There has been a six per cent increase in the use of social media for news, from 46 per cent in 2017 to 52 per cent this year; and
  • There has been a steady increase in paying for online news, from 10 per cent in 2016 to 20 per cent in 2018. However, the majority of Australians still don’t and won’t pay for news.

Lead author and Director of the N&MRC Dr Sora Park said the report uncovered a link between trust and fake news, with news consumers adopting strategies to manage their exposure to misinformation.

“News consumers are accessing trusted sources directly via brand websites and apps, using news aggregators to get tailored news, and following news sources directly on social media,” Dr Park said.

“Trust is highest in established news brands, public broadcasters and print newspapers as consumers seek quality, credibility and reputation in news.”

Associate Professor of Communication and report co-author Glen Fuller, said this year’s report also showed a generational divide in how people accessed news and what they thought about it.

“Unsurprisingly, younger people rely heavily on social media and online news, are more active sharers, and treat news as social content,” Dr Fuller said. “In contrast, older news consumers tend to replicate their traditional unidirectional habit of news consumption even when they access news online.”

The survey also showed that while Australian news consumers were more polarised than the global average, they preferred to keep their political views to themselves.

Assistant Professor of Journalism and report co-author Caroline Fisher said this reluctance, particularly among younger people to share such information could be for a number of reasons.

“Young people may prefer to keep the platform purely social, are aware of the openness of digital platforms and the impact it could have on their reputation, or simply want to avoid any trolling or online abuse,” she said.< The report also found an 11 per cent increase in news consumers following politicians on social media. Women are also more likely to use social media to find news and less likely to go directly to a website or app than men. There were also gender differences in sharing activities with men more likely to comment or engage on news. The full report can be found at http://www.canberra.edu.au/research/faculty-research-centres/nmrc/digital-news-report-australia-2018

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