Majority of Australians believe journalists should stick to news rather than opinion on social media

The majority of Australians believe journalists should not express their personal opinions on social media and only 15% of respondents say they follow specific journalists, according to the latest report on digital news.

The Digital News Report Australia, which is part of an international survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, also found that news brands are far more important to consumers than individual journalists, with 43% saying they pay more attention to the media outlet.

Of the people who pay attention to individuals, the most recalled reporter is the chief political correspondent for 7.30, Laura Tingle, who was named by 10% of all respondents. Also on the list is Seven’s David Koch, Sky News’s Peta Credlin, Andrew Bolt and Paul Murray, the ABC’s Leigh Sales and Guardian Australia’s Katharine Murphy.

Researchers at the University of Canberra’s News and Media Research Centre asked respondents whether reporters should stick to reporting the news only.

More than half (52%) said they should stick to reporting the news; one-third said reporters should be able to express their personal opinions on social media and 14% didn’t know.

The younger the respondent the more likely they were to approve of reporters making personal comments on social media.

The new question in the annual survey was prompted by the crackdown on the social media activity of staff by the ABC.

Weekend Breakfast co-host Fauziah Ibrahim recently returned to the show after several weeks off air while the ABC reviewed her social media activity which included Twitter lists headed “Labor Trolls/Thugs and Lobotomised Shitheads”.

Led by the centre’s professorial research fellow Sora Park, the report contains some positive signs for the Australian news industry, including an increase in the number of people paying for news.

The team surveyed more than 2,038 Australian news consumers and found that 18% are now paying for news, five points higher than last year and now sitting above the global average of 17%.

“This year’s data reveals promising signs that digital news subscriptions are gradually growing, and Australians may be acquiring the habit of subscribing to digital news content, after a long period of stagnation,” Park said.

But while subscriptions are up, trust in media overall is down to 41% (down two points from last year).

“Many Australians do not believe news media are independent, or that they put society first,” Park said. “And these perceptions are linked to a deep cynicism and mistrust in news.”

Former ABC news chief, Gaven Morris, now the CEO of digital consultancy Bastion Transform has analysed the data for the report and says audiences “seem to be saying they’re feeling social media fatigue”.

“In my time at ABC News, I contended Twitter was often an excellent internal messaging tool, but it gained us no extra viewers or listeners,” Morris wrote.

“Whereas once ABC journalists were encouraged to build their social profiles, they’re now explicitly told they’re not required to be on the platforms for their work.

“In the digital age, it’s refreshing to be reminded that journalism in the public interest ranks far above journalists building their personal brand.”

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