Whose News? Australia and Digital News


The past few years have been a tumultuous time for the news business in Australia, with steep cuts at public broadcasters and jobs being shed by other media companies like Fairfax. BuzzFeed has opened its own Australian venture and smaller digital startups like Junkee have appeared.

However, “There is still excitement and potential in the sector,” says a recent report released by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and Oxford University. The report profiles news consumption habits in 12 countries. This is the fourth year it has run and the first that Australia and Ireland have been included. Japan is the only Asian nation, Brazil the only country from Latin America, and the U.S. the sole North America representative.

As the ABC has already noted, Australians show a wide gap in their overall trust in the news, which is just 39 percent, compared with their trust in their favored news sources, which is 53 percent. In terms of overall trust in the news, Australia ranks eighth, and in terms of interest in the news it is ninth. The report explains, “Trust in the news media rises with age, education, and income. Casual Users are much less likely to trust the news than News Lovers or Daily Briefers.”

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We’ve written on the partisan nature of some debates, such as that on climate change, in Australia previously. The divide tends to be more print (or online print) than television, between News Corp papers that swing right and Fairfax that are slightly left-of-center. Public broadcaster the ABC is widely watched and trusted, according to the report, though is accused of leftwing bias by conservative commentators and even Prime Minister Tony Abbott. In general, television sources are trusted much more than print sources are for news.

The report also noted, “Despite the most concentrated print ownership of any Western democracy – coupled with a contracting traditional media industry. Media ownership remains an ongoing issue, with the Communications Minister again raising the prospect of limited deregulation as recently as March 2015.”

Something that might surprise the odd out-of-work foreign correspondent is that Australia has the highest rate, by far, of interest in international news, with 75 percent of the 2042 respondents saying they read the news for this reason. At the same time, Australian news companies have been cutting back on bureaus around the world and papers only have a few correspondents to cover huge regions. Open any newspaper (though Aussies tend not to, preferring digital to print) and most foreign stories will be rewrites from wires or sourced from other papers.

Interestingly, Australians are the most likely to access news via smartphones and devices at 59 percent, yet only 12 percent use actual news apps, despite having downloaded them. Australians also find much of their news via social media gateways, such as Facebook (48 percent), YouTube (18 percent), and Twitter (seven percent). Australia, interestingly, has a much higher rate of females using it for news discovery than men: 63 to 37 percent.

People are still reluctant to pay for their news, with 63 percent saying they would not pay, no matter what (Australia also has one of the highest rates of illegal downloading, also). A fifth of social media users follow a politician, compared with 28 percent in the U.S. (who tend to be educated male News Lovers). This video on Greens Senator Scott Ludlam’s Facebook page ably explains some of the divides on politicians using social media, given that the older generation still have a harder time understanding it. As a side note, Australia’s digital diplomacy is still somewhat inchoate.

What does this report say about the state of Australia’s media? The future is obviously digital and those that have capitalized on the dreaded cat-centric-meme-speak listicle have done well. As with the BuzzFeed parent site, these outlets see more traffic than investigative journalism and long form pieces. Whether the market will expand again and reporters re-hired remains to be seen, though native or branded platforms such as the ANZ bank’s BlueNotes news site are still hiring and apparently paying well.

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