Newspaper readership, particularly of weekend newspapers, showed a significant overall increase during the pandemic.
There are probably many reasons, including a desire to stay in touch with the wider world during lockdown periods. But we think a major reason, as pointed out by Roy Morgan who conducted a survey into news print readership, is that Australians increasingly sought trusted sources for their news.
The survey did not include on-line readership, which anecdotal evidence suggests would have made increased readership even greater.
But it’s hardly surprising that Australians turned to traditional news services – the credibility of social media, helped by President Trump’s outrageous pronouncements and suspended reality, has been badly damaged during the year.
Much of the confusion and turmoil surrounding the US election has been because of the way it was communicated and recirculated, mostly unchecked, through social media by doubtful sources spreading false claims.
How could anyone really work out what was really going on with the results of the Presidential election unless they looked at traditional, trusted, media to check what was happening in the real world? We all looked for, indeed needed, a reality check.
Unfortunately, the Trump factor of claiming anything he wanted as true or false with no supporting evidence, and having some people believe it, is a phenomenon that is not going to end when he leaves the White House. Copycats will follow, and fact-checking and verifying the truth of matters through reliable sources will remain a critical service. The work done by Snopes and the like is increasingly important.
I believe uncertainty surrounding sources and claims is very likely to affect use of social media as a reliable, standalone, communication channel for some time. Unless the platforms expand the use of disclaimers and qualifications and restrict opportunities for the most outrageous and socially damaging claims being presented as facts, publics could well shun them.
We have already seen advertisers express concern about possible damage to their brands. It’s not a question of restricting free speech, it’s a need to show what is fact and what is fiction or even opinion. I live in hope that people will increasingly demand verification of claims made.
Indeed, the whole issue of social media credibility puts a spotlight on the arguments around whether platforms should pay for using the stories mainstream media develops.
It will be interesting to see how these issues play out in 2021.