Amid Unrelenting Negativity, More Americans Avoid the News
Tired of bad news, once-loyal readers and viewers have been gradually tuning it out, research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism finds.
The Oxford-based think tank’s latest surveys show that 38% of U.S. respondents sometimes or often avoid the news. The proportion of U.S. respondents who are “extremely” or “very interested” in the news dropped to 49%, from 67%, in 2015.
Researchers say “news avoidance” might be a response to our age of hyper-information, when digital media have made news instantly available from thousands of sources. By definition, “news” tends to involve conflict. News often provokes feelings of depression, anger, anxiety or helplessness, people say. The Washington Post noted the journalism cliché: “News is the plane that didn’t land, not the many that did.”
Still, researchers say this news avoidance is making an impact on the organizations that gather and report on it. The major cable-news networks — Fox, MSNBC and CNN — saw a combined viewership drop of 8.4% in June, compared with the same month a year earlier. Traffic to news websites has also been sliding.
Meanwhile, online readership of The New York Times fell by 20% last month compared with a year earlier, while The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal saw drops of 15% and 14%, respectively. In addition, hundreds of local news sources — especially weekly newspapers in small towns — have closed in recent years.
News avoidance also impacts communicators working to place stories for their brands or organizations in the media, making it more challenging to reach consumers. For example, Claudia Caplan, a retired ad executive and lifelong news junkie, stopped monitoring media reports during the pandemic and hasn’t returned. “I’ve always felt I had a responsibility to know everything,” she told The Washington Post. “I don’t feel that way anymore.”