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News blues: over half of Australians avoid the news

Marcus Butler

22 June 2017: More than half of adult Australians try to avoid the news occasionally or often, according to a new University of Canberra report.

Some of the main reasons cited by those who avoid news are that news can have a negative effect on mood; news can't be relied upon to be true; and/or that people didn't feel that there is anything they can do about news stories.    

The Digital News Report: Australia 2017, published by the University of Canberra’s News and Media Research Centre (N&MRC) also shows that more women (53 per cent) than men (45 per cent) find that news can have a negative effect on their mood and more men (18 per cent) than women (11 per cent) avoid news that can lead to arguments.

Download the full report via

The report, which is now in its third year, is based on a survey of over 2,000 adult news consumers in Australia and is part of a global study of 36 territories coordinated by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • 63 per cent of Australians are extremely or very interested in the news;
  • Over a third of 18-24 year olds (38 per cent) use social media as their main news source, while 32 per cent of 25-34 year olds prefer news websites;
  • 20 per cent of adult online respondents directly follow politicians and parties on social media. More than half of these said dissatisfaction with political news coverage was behind their decision; and
  • Australians are most interested in ‘news about my region, city or town’ followed by ‘international news’ and ‘news about crime, justice and security’.

Lead author and Director of the N&MRC, Dr Jerry Watkins, said the report highlights the complicated issues emerging around trust in news.

“Australians can and do access a wide range of news content across a range of traditional and digital platforms,” Dr Watkins said.

“But less than half of adult Australians actually trust the news that they choose to watch, read, or listen to.

“Social media continues to grow as the preferred main source of news for younger Australians, yet less than a third of under-35 year olds say that news on social media helps them to distinguish fact from fiction. It's likely that fake news and an increasingly polarised media landscape are contributing to this unexpectedly high level of news avoidance, which is a particularly worrying sign," he said.

This year is the first time that the report has featured an analysis of gender and news. It found that more men are consuming online news while in the bathroom or toilet than women accessing news sites at work.

Gender-specific findings include:

  • More men (32 per cent) access online news than women (22 per cent);
  • More women (41 per cent) prefer television news coverage than men (34 per cent); and
  • Men share news articles via email, whereas women prefer social media or sharing face-to-face.

Director of the University of Canberra’s 50/50 by 2030 Foundation and report co-author, Virginia Haussegger, said the nature of news consumption among women is changing.

"The 24/7 news cycle, the proliferation of news platforms and the new modes of news- sharing have given many women the freedom to choose how, when and where they consume news in a way they were unable to do previously,” Ms Haussegger said.

The report also found that television is the main source of news for people aged 55 and older, with 45 per cent of 55-64 year olds turning on the box for the news – a figure that increased to 50 per cent in those aged 65 and over. Yet according to the research, Australian audiences believe TV news is not the best at unpacking complex issues or providing strong views and opinions.

The survey shows that 20 per cent of adult online respondents directly follow politicians and parties on social media. More than half of these said dissatisfaction with political news coverage was behind their decision.

Caroline Fisher, Assistant Professor of Journalism and report co-author,said that although people want information unfiltered by the media, some still look out for unbiased information.

“Our data suggests that politicians are largely preaching to the converted via their social media feeds. Given the majority of those who follow say their friends also share the same political outlook, it is unlikely that politicians and parties are reaching far beyond their base of supporters."

“People think that politicians’ social media feeds provide them with more information than the news media, but this is not shared across the board. Those on the right wing of politics trust the news media less than those on the left,” Dr Fisher said.