‘Can’t look away’: Israel-Gaza war driving rise in news consumption among gen Z Australians, report suggests

<span>Young Australians are increasingly engaged with broader topics including the Israel-Gaza conflict, according to a digital news report.</span><span>Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP</span>
Young Australians are increasingly engaged with broader topics including the Israel-Gaza conflict, according to a digital news report.Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

More young Australians and women are consuming news more than once a day, driven in part by an interest in the Israel-Gaza war, according to the latest digital news report.

Researchers at the University of Canberra’s News and Media Research Centre found that more than half of Australians (51%) accessed news more than once a day, which is a 3 percentage point increase from last year.

Among young Australians and women, the growth is bigger at 5 percentage points, reflecting a growing interest in international affairs, researchers say.

The Digital News Report: Australia 2024 is part of an international survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Related: Reading, writing and … disinformation: should schoolchildren be taught media literacy like maths?

In his published commentary on the findings Tim Duggan, the chair of the Digital Publishers’ Alliance, said people aged 12 to 27 are rapidly becoming more interested in news that they care about.

“Every generation seems to have a ‘news moment’ that draws them deeper into engagement with wider topics that affect them, from World War II to the Vietnam war, 9/11 to Trump,” Duggan said.

“Gen Z are broadly driven by a deep sense of social awareness, and the horrors of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is this ‘moment’ for the next generation when they can’t look away.”

While interest in international affairs has grown among heavy news consumers, reports of news fatigue have increased among light news consumers. In 2023, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, the voice referendum and flooding in New South Wales and Queensland led to a sharp increase in news fatigue, researchers say.

In other findings, one quarter of Australians now rely on social media as their main source of news, with young people and women using it the most.

With social media now the main source of news for 60% of Gen Z (up from 47% in 2023) the international debate about the role of social media platforms and how to regulate them is pertinent.

“Meta’s closure of its news tab and the de-prioritisation of political content on Instagram will reduce the visibility of news on these social media platforms, with vulnerable groups missing out on important and reliable information,” the report says.

Meta’s policies will also have major consequences for small and independent news organisations.

Meta has refused to enter into new deals with Australian media publishers for the use of their content on Facebook, leading to fears it may again implement a ban on news content appearing on the platform.

Television has maintained its position as the most popular news source (56%) but social media is catching up (49%), particularly among gen Z.

Facebook and YouTube remain popular for news while younger generations prefer Instagram and TikTok. While mainstream news brands are popular on social media gen Z is increasingly seeking out news from so-called ordinary people on TikTok and Instagram and alternative news sources on X.

The report found the use of mainstream news on X (formerly Twitter) has fallen to 49% (-13pp), and news from ordinary people has risen (47%, +10pp).

Duggan says it’s heartening to see gen Z are more engaged with news but the way they receive it through social media is inherently risky. “The large digital platforms have changed how the internet, and our brains, work and they hold too much power in how news reaches audiences through them,” he said. “That is something we should all be concerned about.”

The digital news report has been collecting data for 10 years and among the trends identified in the growth in the number of Australians (25%) who now say their main source of news is social media, up from 18% in 2016.

Last year’s report found leftwing audiences value publicly funded news organisations such as the ABC and SBS much more than rightwing audiences do.