Trusted local and regional news brands cover community issues better than national and international ones, and half of local newspaper readers would pay to ensure it survives.
These are among finding of a new study commissioned by Australian Community Media in a partnership with the University of Canberra.
The ‘Heartbeat of Australia’ study reconfirmed the importance of a healthy news diet in fostering community connection and positive wellbeing. More than 6000 people were polled on issues of concern and their relationship with local news and advertising. ACM research director Alex Mihalovich (below) said that while living costs had become the primary concern for Australians, 89 per cent believed “credible local news publishers” played a significant role in keeping communities connected.
“Our initial study in 2022 found that both physical and mental health were major concerns coming off the back of the pandemic, but as we learn to live with COVID-19 and we’re faced with new challenges, our financial concerns have increased directly as a result of our current economic situation,” he said.
The study found that 84 per cent of people believed local and regional news brands covered issues that affect the community well, and a similar proportion agreed that it was done better than national/international news brands.
ACM managing director Tony Kendall said the study showed that without a regional independent voice, communities had no trusted way of staying connected: “Relevant news and information is vital for the sustainability of our regional towns.
“The research showed there are much higher levels of trust associated with local news brands compared to national news brands.
“This finding is a direct result of the relevance of the content. When people can immediately relate to content that aligns with their personal values and lifestyle they are much more likely to trust that content.”
Kendall said local news spoke directly to its audience. “Whether it’s talking about local events, the newest cafe in town or the next big housing estate, our audience can instantly identify with what they are reading and this is where connections are built.”
The research showed regional Australians felt that advertising and information about local businesses was more relevant to them because advertisers tailored their messages. “It’s also a pretty clear message to national brands that when they advertise in local news they should localise their message as much as possible to ensure relevance and, in turn, cut through.”
The study found readers’ trust in local news brands, at 67 per cent, was 16 per cent higher than for non-readers. Distrust in social media continues to be an area of concern for more than half of respondents.
The Heartbeat research also showed a strong link between the consumption of information and levels of community connection, with 78 per cent of respondents saying that knowing what is going on in their community was the key driver of community connection.
“We have again found a direct correlation between those who consume local news and those who have a deeper sense of connection to their community and positive wellbeing and this comes down to the localised content,” Mihalovich said.
“We continue to see a clear connection between local news consumption and connection to the community. This connection has a positive impact on people’s well-being and in turn leads to a more active cohort. Whether that be travelling, renovating, buying furniture or home appliances, this cohort has a higher propensity to act and this is amplified even higher amongst ACM readers.”
University of Canberra professor Sora Park (top) said the annual survey aimed to support businesses to create marketing strategies that talk in the right tone with consumers.
“We are inherently social beings that need connection to support our mental and physical health and ultimately propel us forward in life, and that connection is established more so in those who consume local news content – 89 per cent of people access news because it helps them feel connected.
“It’s widely recognised that trusted content is a requirement of a high functioning society so ensuring the longevity of such content is critical.”
Some 70 per cent of ACM readers indicated their support for the sustainability of their local newspaper and close to 50 per cent were willing to pay to ensure this. “We found that those who consume local news have a deeper connection to their community, a greater level of positive wellbeing and are better placed to be able to cope with life’s challenges,” said Park, so it’s no surprise that under 45s, who consume less trusted local content than over 45s, are much more likely to have negative feelings about the future, including ‘loneliness’ and ‘stress’.
“They also feel more ‘pessimistic’ and less ‘optimistic’ when they think about the future. Editorial initiatives targeted at under 45s will not only support the health and wellbeing of our youth but the longevity of the news industry.”
The ACM Heartbeat of Australia study surveyed 6,316 people online from March to May 2023 across all ages, gender, life stages and geographies.