14 January, 2022
Locals still see news as essential
Readers of local newspapers value highly the vital role they play in their community.
Now, a new national
survey has shown that even non-readers value newspapers.
More than half of people who do not read local
newspapers believe they are essential to their communities,
the survey has found.
Findings from the survey show that 64.5 per cent of
respondents consider a printed copy of a local newspaper
an essential service to their communities.
per cent, or just under half, state that if they ever did read
a local newspaper, they prefer to do so in print, compared
with online (33 per cent) or via social media (13
The survey conducted in July and August this year,
sought the views of 400 Facebook users, who do not
read a local newspaper, about the role of local news
within their communities.
The research targeted participants in areas that were
being served by independent local newspapers within
the Country Press Australia (CPA) network.
The findings come as many local newspapers have
struggled to survive during the pandemic. Deakin
University associate professor Kristy Hess, who is leading
the research, said the Facebook survey supported
findings from a previous national study of local newspaper
readers, her team conducted last year, highlighting a
passion for the printed product.
“The fact that social media users examined here [in
the latest survey] also indicate a preference for print is
perhaps especially profound,” she said.
Cost and accessibility were the key reasons these
Facebook users did not engage with a local newspaper in
print or digital format, said Dr Hess.
“Many participants highlighted that the absence of a
home-delivery service or easy way to access the paper
created an impediment to accessing the physical copy.
They also indicated that they resisted paying for local
news and would engage if it were free.
"This resonates with findings from our first survey of
newspaper readers – that is, the existence of a culture of
‘free’ where people believe local news content should be
readily available without cost to audiences.”
Bruce Morgan, executive director for CPA, said the survey results were not surprising and reinforced the mood of many regional communities.
“It is not just
about the survival of local independent (newspaper)
businesses, but that it is fundamental to community
well-being, and to basic democratic notions of accountability
within those communities,” he said.
“Issues around accessibility and cost are also not surprising
and reflect swings in community expectation in
recent generations. Most independent publishers are
adapting to that, having learned from the mistakes of the
big corporate players who are now deserting the
regions,” said Mr Morgan.
Country Press NSW president and publisher of The
Gilgandra Weekly said small independent news publishers
are keenly aware of the challenges and opportunities
that social media presents to their businesses in the digital
“Newspaper publishers are dealing with very diff
erent advertising markets, even at a local level. Many of
the traditional newspaper advertising avenues have
moved on to social media, such as buy, swap, sell pages.
Publishers are adapting however, increasingly contributors
and would-be advertisers are taking to social media
first and thinking about their local publications second,”
said Mrs Peart.
“We must work harder to be relevant to an online
audience, and part of that is about having staff to run
your digital options and monitor the audience interactions.
CPA is working hard for its members to access
funding from digital platforms to ensure fair compensation
for locally created news content. This in turn will
help small publishers increase their online and digital
news delivery for the future,” said Mrs Peart.
Both recent surveys are part of a national three-year
Australian research council-funded project involving
researchers from Deakin and RMIT universities, with
support from CPA, the peak media body for independent
The project is about to enter its third year. Associate professor Hess said the voices and perspectives of everyday people were often missing in policy discussion about the future of local media. Almost 30 per cent of Australia’s population, close to eight million people, live outside major cities in rural and regional areas, and are less-well serviced than their urban counterparts.