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Digital News Report: Australia 2020

Most Australians will miss local news if it disappears, and especially so if it disappears from Social Media as threatened by Facebook. The News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra is the Australian partner institute and author of the Digital News Report: Australia. This is the sixth annual DNR: Australia report. This report is part of a long running international survey coordinated by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, an international research centre in the comparative study of journalism based at the University of Oxford. The Digital News Report delivers comparative data on media usage in 40 countries and across 6 continents.

This year’s report has been shaped by unprecedented health and weather events. The main survey was conducted toward the end of the extreme bushfire season in Australia, and additional research was undertaken while the country was in lockdown due to the coronavirus.

At the time of publication, the news media were also grappling with the economic impacts of the pandemic. Many local and regional outlets have closed or been suspended, and the long term financial and social consequences of the global health pandemic are not yet fully known.

Key findings:

  • Australian news consumers are accessing news more frequently but their interest in news is declining

  • Trust in news fell to 38% (-6) in Jan/Feb 2020 but trust in news about COVID-19 during the pandemic was much higher (53%)

  • More than half (54%) of news consumers say they prefer impartial news, but 19% want news that confirms their worldview

  • Those with lower incomes, low education and live in the regions rely more on local news

  • Australian news consumers (8%) are more than twice as likely than the global average (3%) to believe climate change is not serious at all

  • More than half (58%) believe tech platforms should block false political ads and 24% say they shouldn’t

COVID-19 pandemic has proven how much local news still matters as people need to get information about the spread of the virus in their area and keep up with the advice of local authorities which may be different to national guidelines.

During the bushfires, almost half of news consumers (45%) said that they were very or extremely interested in local news.

Local newspapers and their websites were cited as the top source of local news (41%). The News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra authors said "We found that almost a quarter of news consumers were turning to alternative sources such as local social media groups for news about their community. This suggests that traditional news media are not fully meeting consumers’ demands for local news. This was particularly the case for younger generations."

"We asked news consumers if they would miss local news if it were to close. The majority say they would miss local news sources if they were to close. Three-quarters would miss local newspapers (76%). Local radio would be missed the most (81%), especially by low income and regional Australians. This reflects the important role of radio during the bushfire crisis."

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