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Australians born overseas prefer the online world for their news

The increasing use of social media for news is alarming, because the information is not always reliable. Shutterstock

Australians from diverse cultural backgrounds are more likely to rely on social media and other internet sources, rather than traditional media, for their news and information.

Our research shows that Australians born overseas have a keen interest in local, national and international news, similar to those born in Australia. However, they turn to non-traditional media more often to consume news of interest. Our study sheds light on the differences between the news consumption habits of Australians born in Australia, and those born overseas but living in Australia.

In the study, we distributed an online survey to 216 Australians, with 68.5% identifying themselves as born in Australia. In the second phase, we distributed the same survey to 221 Australians from diverse cultural backgrounds, 73% of whom noted they were born overseas. The age distribution of participants in both surveys was similar, with a slightly higher proportion of younger people in both groups.

International research has established that news consumers in more developed nations have “distributed” sources of news for a variety of reasons, including access to new media. Our study shows that Australians born overseas were more active online when consuming news than those born here, and as a result had further “enhanced distributed” sources of news than respondents in the first survey, who were predominantly born in Australia.

Read more: Shock horror: the big end of town has finally discovered Australia's media is a whitewash

Respondents in the second survey relied less on television (29% versus 42%) as their “main source of news”. Higher numbers of Australians born overseas considered social media networking sites (18% versus 12%) and radio (16% versus 8%) as their “main sources of news”.

Similarly, respondents born overseas visited an online news site more often (65% versus 48%); and searched through a news aggregator such as Google News more often (34% versus 23%). They also searched for a specific news topic via a search engine more often (72% versus 47%); and they were referred to a news story more often by a social media contact (53% versus 35%).

This is significant considering that the 2016 census showed that more than one in four of Australians was born overseas.

The census also pointed out that an increasing number of Australian citizens were born in Asian countries and other parts of the world, whereas in the past most migrants came from Europe.

The changing demography of Australia means that a typical migrant in Victoria was born in India, while a typical migrant in New South Wales was born in China. Considering this demographic shift, our research raises questions about the kinds of news stories covered by the mainstream media in Australia.

For example, our study shows that nearly twice as many respondents in the second survey (40% versus 21%) used social media to gain news about international events. Similarly, a significant number of Australians born overseas sought international news on Australian online sites (80%) compared with those in the first survey (50%).

Why it matters

The study has implications for traditional Australian news media (print, radio and television) in the digital era, where the industry’s outlook remains one of “struggle and constraint” from declining revenue and competition from global online media and subscription video-on-demand services.

Our study shows that audiences are aware that news available on social networking sites can be of lower quality. However, Australians born overseas trust social media slightly more than those in the first survey, which predominately included Australians born in Australia. However, about a fifth (19%) of 437 participants did not trust any media source.

Read more: Advertising is driving social media-fuelled fake news and it is here to stay

The reliance on social media is alarming because news and information distributed via social networking sites may not be filtered by experienced and skilled journalists, potentially leading to the sharing and consumption of unverified information.

Meanwhile, research has shown that skewed coverage of transnational news events and issues creates stereotypes and causes anxiety amongst communities. The distributed sources of news isolates various sections of the Australian community into silos.

This in turn results in fragmentation of news audiences and decentralisation of news production by a variety of producers, both of which have an impact on a community’s common understanding of shared events.

We argue that by catering to the needs of the increasingly multicultural audiences in Australia and providing more depth to their coverage of transnational news, events and issues, the mainstream media may be able to increase their relevance as a source of news to a broader range of Australians.

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