A new survey has revealed strong community interest and support for local news publications nationwide, with an overwhelming interest in printed news bucking the digital trend.

Key Takeaways

  • Participants were 5x more likely to visit their local news website for local news than Google or Facebook, and 10x more likely than their local council website.
  • Readers were also 2.6x more likely to read their paper in print than in digital format.
  • Participants were in clear favour of more investigative news stories (67%), information about events (60%), people’s achievements and successes (47%) and letters to the editor (30%).
  • ‘Facilitating conversations between everyday people about issues’ was at the top of the agenda, with 46% of residents choosing this as their number one priority of a local newspaper.
  • Residents overwhelmingly indicated interest in the policy-decisions affecting the future of local newspapers (94%), with respondents saying that these policies would influence their vote at the next election (61%).
  • Collaborative funding for local news involving media companies, advertisers, subscribers and government, was favoured by respondents (59%), as opposed to government subsidies alone (30%).
  • As for additional funding, that should go primarily to employing local journalists to report on the news (71%).

The survey, part of Australia’s Country Press project and funded by the Australian Research Council, drew responses from over 4000 participants, who gave their opinion on a number of important news-related issues, including preferences for the content, funding, and format of local news.

It comes amidst difficult times for local news publications, with more than 200 local and suburban papers nationwide either permanently or temporarily closing doors since March 2020.

In early 2021, conglomerate News Corp made the decision to stop sending printed newspapers to parts of regional Queensland as part of a major cost-cutting program.

The new survey reveals a strong demand for localised, print journalism, with a particular emphasis on investigative stories that facilitate community discussion about everyday issues.

Project leader Associate Professor Kristy Hess, from Deakin University’s School of Communication, said that the voices and perspectives of everyday audiences were often missing in policy discussion about the future of local media.

‘It’s clear that the local newspaper really matters to Australian audiences; personally, I don’t think that was ever in doubt.

‘But we can see from this survey just how passionate readers are about the sustainability of news that provides good quality local content and keeps them informed about people and happenings in their community.’

Participants indicated they were more likely to visit their local news website for local news than other sources. Source: Country Press Australia

‘Print is Perfect’

A vast majority of those surveyed preferred a printed newspaper to a digital version – readers were 2.6x more likely to read a printed copy than a digital copy.

Audiences felt that a printed copy of their newspaper was an essential service to their community.

This included the younger demographic, with more than half of younger readers (57%) preferring a physical copy.

As one participant explains, print news is simply more engaging and satisfying to read.

‘Print, it’s essentially perfect. There is nothing as satisfying as flicking through the paper with a cuppa in bed … and it’s easy to pass on to others and to refer back to articles and events. The printed form is a friend; the online version is not.’ – Female reader, 64, Victoria

There are practical advantages too, as one participant points out, not all readers are digital literate.

‘The printed newspaper is essential for older readers in the district, many of whom have limited or no internet access…’ – Female reader, 76, Victoria

Community Loyalty

A journalist’s job is to serve the community, and local news provides the opportunity to explore local stories in depth.

Audiences are five times more likely to visit their local news website for local developments than Facebook or Google, and ten times more likely than council websites.

The vast majority (94%) of respondents indicated they wished to have a say on government policy affecting local newspapers.

A collaborative approach should be taken to local news funding (59%) say respondents, with stakeholders including media companies, advertisers, subscribers, governments, and philanthropy

Investigative, community-focused, informative

Respondents wanted to see more stories that sparked discussion about important issues. Source: Country Press Australia

The role of local newspapers is to act as community hub (59%) – and, local knowledge is vital for journalists working on local newspapers.

The number one priority of local newspapers should be to facilitate conversations between everyday people about issues, according to the survey. This is followed closely by investigative news stories, more information about upcoming events, and celebrating people’s achievements and successes.

Accurate reportage of local politics is also of major importance for readers of local news.

Investigative news stories were of top interest to readers. Source: Country Press Australia.

What are your thoughts?

Park Ridge News wants to hear your thoughts on the topic of local news. What kind of stories do you want to see appearing in the paper? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, or send them through to the editor, Paul@prnews.com.au

 

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