(This article was translated from the French.)

The Digital News Report 2019 is an international survey of perceptions and consumption of news in the digital age. It is conducted annually by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. For the Canadian portion of the survey, we asked Canadian news consumers about their satisfaction with different aspects of the news media. We also wanted to know about the prevalence of “news avoidance,” of information overload, and of certain political views. Based on these elements, we determined which groups might be less attentive to news coverage of the parties and of the candidates’ activities.

According to the survey,  conducted in winter 2019 (the methodology of the survey and an overview of the Canadian study can be found on our website), overall, Canadian respondents are somewhat satisfied with the work of the news media and compare favourably with respondents of the other countries surveyed on this point. Still, more than one in four Canadians, or 28 percent — and 32 percent of those aged 18 to 34 — report that they are “worn out by the amount of news there is these days.” Among Canadians who consume news, 58 percent say they avoid it at least occasionally. As well, certain groups are more critical toward the media, more likely to feel information overload or to actively avoid the news from time to time.

Satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the media

Respondents who consume news less regularly are more consistently dissatisfied with the work done by the news media. Canadians under 35 and those with lower education levels are especially inclined to express dissatisfaction. Figure 1 shows the difference between young adults and respondents aged 35 and over. Five indicators were used to measure satisfaction of consumers with how the news media is doing their work. Respondents who disagreed with statements 4 and 5 were considered to be satisfied.

Women (-5 percentage points compared with men) and anglophones (-16 percentage points compared with francophones) are more critical of how the media carry out their watchdog role, specifically monitoring and scrutinizing leaders in politics and business.

Taking into account respondents’ political orientations, we find there is a division by language group. Left-leaning francophones and right-leaning anglophones are less satisfied with the work done by the news media (see figures 2 and 3). These results must, however, be interpreted with caution, given that the majority of the respondents, 58 percent, consider themselves to be at the centre of the political spectrum. Still, this raises the question of whether people with more deep-seated political views will be less receptive of how the media cover partisan activities during the campaign.

When we wanted to know which Canadians don’t appreciate the media and tend to tune out of political campaign coverage, certain attitudes seem particularly prominent, notably the level of trust of “most news, most of the time.” Indeed, news consumers who said they distrust the media are much less inclined to consider they are doing a good job in explaining the news (37 percent, compared with 60 percent for the total sample).

Attitudes associated with populism

This year, the Digital News Report examined attitudes that are typically associated with populism. To measure these, we asked respondents to tell us their level of agreement with the following statements:

  • “The people should be consulted when important decisions are taken.”
  • “Most elected officials don’t care what people like me think.”
  • “Immigration is a threat to our national culture.”

Compared with the overall Canadian sample, respondents who agree with at least one of these statements are slightly more likely to feel overwhelmed by the volume of news. Those who believe that elected officials don’t care what people like them think are markedly less likely to have a positive opinion of the media. Only 27 percent find that the media cover relevant subjects, compared with 51 percent for those who disagree with the statement that “elected officials don’t care what people like me think.”

News consumption habits and satisfaction with the media

Despite the growth of digital platforms, television is still an important part of Canadians’ news consumption. Fully 44 percent of survey respondents indicate that it is their main source of news. However, the same proportion of respondents identify online platforms – the Web sites of legacy news producers, social media or blogs – as their main source of news.

Not surprisingly, the proportion of those who mostly get their news on television is larger among older age groups: 58 percent of those aged 45 and older and 66 percent of those over 65. Only 17 percent of young adults aged 18-24 name television as their main news source, while 73 percent mostly get their news online. Nearly half of youth, 49 percent, prefer social media. To successfully gain and hold the attention of young voters during the upcoming federal election campaign, the media and political parties must therefore find them online ─ on the platforms they consult.

Among both younger and older Canadians there seems to be a connection between their media consumption habits and their appreciation of the work of the news media. The respondents who mostly get their news online tend to be less satisfied with the work done by the media than those who mainly follow the news on television, on radio or in newspapers. Those who prefer social media are especially critical: only 47 percent of them consider that the media help them to understand the news.

Like political parties and candidates, the media will try to reach as many Canadians as possible during the election campaign. Our survey results show that the media will have to make extra effort to reach certain audiences, especially people who mostly follow the news online, notably younger people. The greatest challenge will not be innovating through technology or being present on social media, but rather gaining voters’ attention and trust.

The Digital News Report is an international survey led by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. The Canadian study is supervised by the Centre d’études sur les mĂ©dias. The report is based on an online questionnaire administered by YouGov. In Canada, it was distributed to a random sample of 2,055 participants registered with YouGov. The questionnaire began with a filter question to exclude respondents who had not consumed news in the month preceding the survey. The Canadian data were collected from January 17 to February 18, 2019. The francophone subsample was completed on February 27, 2019, and consisted of 1,001 respondents. The results are weighted to be representative of Canada’s adult population.

This article is part of The media and Canadian elections special feature.

Photo: Shutterstock/By View Apart

Souhaitez-vous rĂ©agir Ă  cet article ? Joignez-vous aux dĂ©bats d’Options politiques et soumettez-nous votre texte en suivant ces directives. | Do you have something to say about the article you just read? Be part of the Policy Options discussion, and send in your own submission. Here is a link on how to do it. 

Colette Brin
Colette Brin is a professor at DĂ©partement  d’information et de communication and director of the Centre d’études sur les mĂ©dias at UniversitĂ© Laval. She co-edited Journalism in Crisis: Bridging Theory and Practice for Democratic Media Strategies in Canada (2016), and she served on the advisory panel for the Public Policy Forum’s report The Shattered Mirror (2017).
Kamille Leclair
Kamille Leclair is research assistant and Mitacs Intern at the Centre d’études sur les medias. She is an undergraduate student in political science at UniversitĂ© Laval.
SĂ©bastien Charlton
SĂ©bastien Charlton is a researcher and administrator at the Centre d’études sur les mĂ©dias and Groupe de recherche sur les mutations du journalisme at UniversitĂ© Laval, where he has been working since 2003. He is the co-author of a study on news consumption in Quebec (2016).

You are welcome to republish this Policy Options article online or in print periodicals, under a Creative Commons/No Derivatives licence.

Creative Commons License