The shift of news audiences and advertisers from offline to online media is challenging the viability of traditional news media. There has been a decline in the provision of news in many areas where local outlets have closed during the pandemic. It's happened in countries like the US too. News consumption is also increasingly fragmented, as people rapidly shift to new digital platforms.
At this critical time for the news industry, ACM's Heartbeat of Australia survey confirms an important link between satisfaction with local news and an individual's well-being and connectedness to their community. Australians who are satisfied with the amount, quality and relevance of local news are more likely to feel part of their community (79 per cent), compared to those who are not satisfied (64-68 per cent). This is possibly because they have better knowledge of what is going on in the local area. The top reasons for accessing local news are "to understand things that may affect me" (88 per cent) and "know what is going on in my local area" (84 per cent).
More importantly, we found that those who access local news regularly have higher life satisfaction: 85 per cent of local news readers are satisfied with life compared to only 62 per cent of those who do not access local news.
However, the study found a stark divide between younger and older Australians, and between regional and city dwellers. Younger people (those under 45) are much more likely than older people to have negative feelings about the future, including loneliness and stress. They are worried about younger generations moving away from their local area and have less confidence in their community's resilience. Younger people are more concerned about community issues that can weaken social cohesion, such as racism and isolation. These concerns are amplified among those living in the city.
All of these factors are closely related to local news consumption. One in five younger people in the city do not access any local news, compared to only one in 20 in the regions. This may be because they find news less relevant to them. Younger generations value news that is about people like them and covers a wide range of perspectives. They prefer news that is accessible and customisable, so they can pick topics more interesting to them.
This is an important message as the news industry addresses its existential crisis. News organisations are devising strategies to replace lost advertising dollars, including digital subscriptions and native advertising. These efforts are gaining traction but a deeper understanding of rapidly shifting audiences is needed.
The Heartbeat study found that trust in local news is significantly higher (60 per cent) than trust in national news (43 per cent). Local newspapers are the most trusted source of news (60 per cent), ahead of radio (51 per cent) and TV (46 per cent). Social media is the least trusted source. Australians want local news they can trust that is relevant to their everyday lives.
University of Canberra's 2022 Digital News Report found that of all news topics, Australians are most interested in local news. Digital news options have increased, but trust in news has declined and people say they are tired of seeing too much politics in the news. This can lead them to deliberately avoid news.
But the Heartbeat research shows that a healthy diet of local news is essential to the well-being of individuals and communities, providing participation in civic life, access to vital information and a sense of community identity and belonging.
- Professor Sora Park, of the University of Canberra's News & Media Research Centre, led the team that collaborated on ACM's Heartbeat of Australia.