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Despite the seismic shifts that have rocked media communication and journalism since the turn of the millennium, mainstream media remains a tremendously relevant force, including at election time.

Data about where people hear from them clarify that. In 2021, around 61% of Australians accessed television news in an average week and 47% used online news platforms.

These are dominated by established media organizations. the Top 10 digital news headlines in the 12 months to December 2021 were all mainstream media.

At the top was news.com.au, followed by ABC, nine.com.au, The Sydney Morning Herald and 7News. All but the Daily Mail (which lost ground sharply) posted year-on-year growth.

While only 20% of people used print media, reflecting the decline of newspapers since the start of the digital revolution in 2006, data from Roy Morgan Research indicates that the decline may be slowing, at least in some markets.

The data is preliminary, but it shows a quite remarkable growth of 10.4% in print audience for The Australian, 8.2% growth for the Daily Telegraph and 3.1% growth for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Print audiences for the Courier-Mail in Brisbane (2.3%), the West Australian (5.5%) and the Adelaide Advertiser (0.4%) also increased.

Notably, however, the print audiences of Melbourne’s two main newspapers, The Age and The Herald Sun, continued to decline, The Age’s by 1.3% and The Herald Sun’s by 1.9%.

Read more: Outrage, polls and bias: 2019 federal election showed Australian media needed better regulation

A striking feature of these figures is the growth in audience for News Corporation newspapers across the country, except in Melbourne.

This raises some interesting questions about the kind of news Australians seem to want.

News Corporation is not shy about using its reporting to advance its own agendas. Its internal code of conduct States:

Commentary, guesswork, and opinion are acceptable in reports to provide perspective on an issue, or to explain the significance of an issue, or to enable readers to recognize the publication’s view on the subject being reported.

So much for fairness in reporting and for separating news from opinion – principles which are explicitly required by the codes of the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review, by the editorial policies of the ABC, and by The Guardian, whose tenacious saying of former owner-editor CP Scott was: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”.

For decades, surveys have shown that Australian media consumers place a very high value on fairness in news reporting, ranking it just after accuracy as the attribute they value most in content. some news.

A report for the Australian Communications and Media Authority in 2020 cited a 2018 Morgan survey showing the attributes people considered most important in deciding which media to trust. The top two were accuracy of reporting (93%) and fairness (90%).

So does that change?

Is it possible that people’s intensive exposure to social media and their use of it as a source of information changes their taste for news and their evaluation of important attributes?

After all, at 52%, social media is now the second most consulted source of information for Australians, not far behind 61% for television.

Or could it be that in a time of intense political polarization, people prefer news that promotes their tribe’s perspectives over impartiality?

Social media content, much of which falls far short of journalistic standards of impartiality, unquestionably provides it, creating the well-established phenomenon of filter bubbles and echo chambers.

At the same time, the raw material for social media content comes to a large extent from mainstream media. This is particularly the case during an election campaign, where the media ‘pack’ traveling with each of the main party leaders is made up of mainstream media – they are the ones who receive accreditation and direct access to leaders .

Social media takes this raw material and gives it various treatments – memes, altered contexts and distortions of all kinds – to entertain, enrage or mobilize.

In this way, mainstream news influences what happens on social media, adding to the reach and relevance of mainstream media while generally losing the attributes of accuracy and fairness that people say they value.

Contradictions abound.

People say they base their trust in the media on the accuracy and fairness of reporting. Trust in mainstream media stay higher trust in social media as a source of information, yet social media has grown in importance as a source of information while mainstream media, especially newspapers, are in decline.

Read more: The vomit principle, the dead bat, the freeze: how the tactics of political spin-docs aim to shape the news

It would indeed be a heavy irony if a revival of mainstream media audiences were driven by their imitation of social media, abandoning the impartiality that people believe is the cornerstone of their trust.

Not just an irony, but a disaster for democracy.

On the one hand, democracy depends on voters having a reliable, accurate and unbiased basis of information on which to base their political, social and economic choices. The focus on gaffes and political theater, the kind we’ve seen in this campaign so far, doesn’t do that.

On the other hand, highly partisan news media help fuel the polarization that undermines democratic consensus, the consequences of which were demonstrated by the assault on the Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021.

Still, News Corp’s growth in newspaper audiences, as Morgan’s data shows, shows that abandoning impartial reporting could be a successful business strategy.

It could also be a successful corporate political strategy as its mastheads fight for a return of the Morrison government.

The mainstream media is certainly not dead as an electoral force and the form its journalism takes, with its impact on Australian democratic processes, are important and important issues for the future of the country.

This article is republished from The conversation is the world’s leading publisher of research-based news and analysis. A unique collaboration between academics and journalists. It was written by: Denis Müller, The University of Melbourne.

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Denis Muller does not work for, consult, own stock or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.

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