By Professor Glenn Withers
Applied Economics and Australian National University
Australian communities are battling multiple challenges of the times. The vast majority of Australians believe good journalism is important during these trying days. Fires, floods, storms, drought and pandemic have had impacts for us all. In dealing with this, public interest journalism has been a key source of insight, as attested by that public.
As part of its important research, PIJI is tracking public opinion before, during and after some of these crises. A first sample survey of the general population was conducted for PIJI (by Essential Media) in October 2019, followed up in April 2020 (by Essential Media). A third survey is scheduled for November 2020.
What we know so far is that, for a start, we Australians are great media users. Four out of five adults consume some form of media daily. Of course, much is for entertainment and amusement, and patterns differ for different groups. But what recent PIJI research now also shows is that information, investigation and analysis are acknowledged as just as important or, actually, more so. And this appreciation, already very high, increases even further during crisis.
A clear majority across all major demographics (and even politics) do regard public interest journalism as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ even in ‘normal’ times. For example, such voters would even be willing to see increased taxes going to support this need.
A majority of Australians would to pay at least $6 per head in higher tax, and 40% would offer up $12 annually, according to the October 2018 PIJI survey. A $560 million total sum follows by adding up these support valuations – and could be applied whether in social media – news provider negotiations or through government support.
And the underlying support does increase during crisis. The 81% who say public interest journalism is important (October) rises to 86% during time of disaster and pandemic (April). In addition, we can report that concern over declining local government news especially has accelerated.
PIJI, like the rest of the community, is eagerly waiting for more normal times to return. In our case, one small benefit will be to assess again via our third survey, what the community thinks about pubic interest journalism. Already high, and higher during crises, a new normal may be found.
Glenn Withers is a Professor of Economics at the Australian National University and University of New South Wales. He is also a member of the PIJI Expert Research Panel.