Australians are most interested in local news topics and regional print readers are increasingly likely to pay for online subscriptions, a report into the news habits of audiences across the country has found.
Sixty-seven per cent of a sample of approximately 2000 Australians surveyed for the University of Canberra's Digital News Report: Australia 2022 said they were interested in local news, with international news, COVID and politics the next-ranked topics.
Women are also more likely to be interested in their local community, with 70 per cent of women interested in local news and 63 per cent of men.
Local news attracted cross-generational support, with Gen Z readers through to those aged 76 and over deeming it the area they are most interested in.
While the percentage of people paying for subscriptions has grown - and young people are more likely to be among those that pay - they remain in the minority.
According to the report, only 17 per cent of those who say they are interested in local news pay to access it, and there are indications some consumers view the likes of local news or COVID-19 news as "essential news that ... should be free to all", the report states.
Sora Park, leader of the Digital News Report: Australia project, said closures of regional newspapers could see readers turning to less reliable sources.
"People are most interested in local news, among all the different topics, but ... we see all these closures, especially in regional areas, so people perhaps are not getting enough local news."
"We saw in last year's report that people turned to other sources when they don't have a local news that they trust or that they value the quality of."
"They go to alternative sources of local information such as social media, and in that case, you we all know that social media can't provide what news media can provide, so there's a bit of a gap."
Twenty-four per cent of regional Australians said they read regional/local newspapers, up seven percentage points from 2021.
"These are perilous times for news on paper in rural, regional and suburban Australia: higher prices for newsprint, more competition for advertising revenue from digital giants, fewer papers in print, fewer copies circulated," executive editor of ACM, publisher of this newspaper, James Joyce said in commentary provided to the authors of the report.
"But regional newspapers are not giving up without a fight."
Mr Joyce pointed to an increase in the number of print consumers paying for online subscriptions (21 per cent), as the way forward for regional journalism.
Beyond local news, the report also indicated that younger generations are more likely to pay for news, 28 per cent of Gen Y and 21 per cent of Gen Z, but a larger portion of older generations have an ongoing subscription.
"Younger people have different expectations of news compared to the older generations and perhaps news media aren't quite addressing that change yet," Ms Park said.
"So for example, young people, they want much more diverse agendas, different topics."
"They want news to have a voice, so it's very different from the traditional, impartial and balanced [model]."
There is also some indication younger generations are moving away from social media as their main news source.
While 46 per cent of Gen Z still cite social media as their main source of news, this was a six percentage point drop from last year.
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