A growing number of people around the world are deliberately avoiding news media.
Nearly two out of five people polled in an annual Reuters study reported sometimes or often avoiding consuming news, according to the survey, which was conducted by the media behemoth across 46 countries earlier this year and published on Tuesday.
Fully 38% of respondents said they were avoiding news coverage of certain topics, such as in this case the Covid-19 pandemic, because coverage had become “repetitive” and “depressing,” a surge of 10 percentage points from the figures reported in 2017. Of those who confessed to avoiding the news, 43% complained there was too much coverage of politics and the pandemic, while 36% blamed the news for their poor mood and 29% lamented there was simply too much news to process.
News avoidance among British respondents has soared the most, with 46% claiming to shun the news “sometimes” or “often” – nearly twice as many as in 2016. The BBC suffered the worst drop among all public media brands covered in the report, losing 20 percentage points since 2018. Among the reasons cited by UK residents for distrusting their media was a concern that news organizations put their own commercial and political interests ahead of society’s.
Nearly three out of ten (29%) of global respondents complained that the news they saw was untrustworthy or biased, while a significant portion complained it led to arguments they would rather avoid. Another 16% simply found the news useless, reporting “there is nothing I can do with the information.”
The worldwide outlook for the media’s reputation is grim, with just 42% of respondents saying they trusted journalists “most of the time.” The US leads the pack in the downward spiral, with just 26% of those polled reporting trust in the media, a three-point drop from last year.
The pandemic provided a brief boost in credibility for most countries, but aside from Finland, where 69% report trust in their media, that newfound faith was short-lived. Nearly half of the countries polled saw trust in news media fall last year, while only seven saw a rise.
Study author Nic Newman blamed the high degree of political turmoil for the general dissatisfaction with news coverage, highlighting the high rankings of Brazil, the UK and US among the news avoiders. “Subjects that journalists consider most important, such as political crises, international conflicts and global pandemics, seem to be precisely the ones that are turning some people away,” he observed.
Journalists must strike a balance between addressing trust issues and treating readers like adults, he said, calling for writers to clearly label opinions as such and avoid trying to pass off clickbait and sensationalism as ‘real’ journalism. Writers should also strive to make news “more accessible/easier to understand,” Newman said, claiming that jargon and “insider speak” were driving readers away.
Younger respondents in particular reported being more distanced from popular news brands such as the New York Times or Washington Post, instead consuming news through social media and search engines. Two in five individuals in the 18-24 age group reported using TikTok weekly, with 15% reporting using the micro-vlogging platform to find, discuss, and share news stories. Smartphones dominate television, radio and newspapers in most countries as the primary avenue for news consumption.
But the switch to digital may be dooming news consumption as much as it is encouraging it, according to Newman, who told Poynter that “people feel they are being bombarded/overloaded often when they haven’t asked for it,” noting that the vast array of choices available to online news consumers means no one has to read any “depressing” stories they don’t want to.
Image Credit: Democracy Action