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News avoidance a challenge in 2024 that is a big election year

News avoidance is one of the biggest challenges for news publishers. An increasing number of citizens don’t think it’s worth spending time and money on traditional news publishers. Study after study confirms this trend. 2024 is a gigantic election year with voters going to the polls in big democracies like India and the US. More than four billion people in 76 countries are voting. This stresses the risks with deep-fakes on social media and the importance of well informed voters. 

Globally media specialists and publishers try to come up with action plans to address the growing news fatigue including development of content, distribution and business model. Among later contributors are three media professors who have written book “Avoiding the new. Reluctant Audiences for Journalism” arguing that publishers have to change.

“In many countries across the world, a significant number of people consistently avoid the news, and more broadly, news consumption is declining, interest in news is down, and more occasional selective news avoidance growing”, write Benjamin Toff, assistant professor of University of Minnesota, Ruth Palmer, associate professor at IE University in Madrid and Segovia and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute and professor at the University of Oxford.

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“Many people – and not just consistent news avoiders – say that news is depressing, irrelevant, unintelligible, and that there isn’t anything they can do about the problems they see in the news anyway.”

The authors say that structuring stories explicitly to highlight, rather than to bury or elide, how those stories could directly affect audience members’ lives and how they might respond would counterbalance that feeling that news is pointlessly negative. 

“It would also address frequently invoked folk theories that much news, especially about politics, has no bearing on ordinary peoples’ lives.” 

“Ensuring all kinds of people feel their identity is reflected and valued in news – indeed that news can empower them to take meaningful action – is clearly not impossible.”

Another aspect is to go to where the readers are. A lot of potential readers are on social media that offers lots of disinformation but some established news publishers do not really recognise the social media as a platform for themselves.

“If meeting people where they are in terms of delivery and infrastructure is an unappetising prospect for upmarket commercial news providers focused on developing their own on-site audience, it may be particularly important for public service and non-profit media to think about how they can do so on different platforms and thereby avoid just super-serving already well-served, privileged audiences.” 

And not all news publishers look the same. Some are more serious and unbiased than others. 

“Folk theories of journalism often have some basis in truth: obviously many news outlets do publish sensationalistic pieces, have a partisan slant, or lead with opinion, for example.” 

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“Journalism and the news media like to say they operate in the public interest. If so, they need to explain how, addressing existing preconceptions and concerns about what it is that journalists do and recognising, naming, and holding to account those parts of the profession and the industry that routinely fall short when it comes to shared values and standards. Convincing the public that it is actually true that the rest are delivering on their mission and living up to their principles requires making that case, again and again, in word and in deed”, the authors write.

Worrying news reports about the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to an increasing number of people avoiding the news is a conclusion of Reuters Institute’s recent Digital News Report. “The need for reliable information, careful context, and considered debate has rarely been greater, but so too has the desire for stories that inspire and give hope of a better tomorrow.”

The study shows that across markets, only around a fifth of respondents (22%) now say they prefer to start the day with a website or app – that’s down 10 percentage points since 2018. 

Publishers in a few smaller Northern European markets have managed to buck this trend, but younger groups everywhere are showing a weaker connection with news brands’ own websites and apps than previous cohorts – preferring to access news via side-door routes such as social media, search, or mobile aggregators, the report says.

“While some individual news media have clearly been very successful at building online reach or convincing people to subscribe, and developed new offers across podcast, video, and newsletters, this year’s data show many publishers are still struggling to come to terms with structural changes that have been ravaging the industry for more than a decade.”

“These challenges are compounded by the fraying connection that journalism and news media have with much of the public in many countries. More people are disconnected, interest in news is down, selective news avoidance up, and trust far from a given.”

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“The Ukraine crisis, and before it the COVID-19 pandemic, have reminded people of the value of accurate and fair reporting that gets as close to the truth as possible, but we also find evidence that the overwhelming and depressing nature of the news, feelings of powerlessness, and toxic online debates are turning many people away – temporarily or permanently.”

The report says a clear trend is changing habits of younger groups, specifically those under 30, whom news organisations often struggle to reach. The report is based on data from six continents and 46 markets.

  • Trust in the news has fallen in almost half the countries in the survey, and risen in just seven, partly reversing the gains made at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic. On average, 42% say they trust most news most of the time. Finland remains the country with the highest levels of overall trust (69%), while news trust in the USA has fallen by a further three percentage points and remains the lowest (26%) in the survey.
  • The proportion of news consumers who say they avoid news, often or sometimes, has increased sharply across countries. This type of selective avoidance has doubled in both Brazil (54%) and the UK (46%) over the last five years, with many respondents saying news has a negative effect on their mood. A significant proportion of younger and less educated people say they avoid news because it can be hard to follow or understand – suggesting that the news media could do much more to simplify language and better explain or contextualise complex stories.
  • Global concerns about false and misleading information remain stable this year, ranging from 72% in Kenya and Nigeria to just 32% in Germany and 31% in Austria. People say they have seen more false information about Coronavirus than about politics in most countries, but the situation is reversed in Turkey, Kenya, and the Philippines, amongst others.
  • Despite increases in the proportion paying for online news in a small number of richer countries (Australia, Germany, and Sweden), there are signs that overall growth may be levelling off. Across a basket of 20 countries where payment is widespread, 17% paid for any online news – the same figure as 2922. Persuading younger people to pay remains a critical issue for industry, with the average age of a digital news subscriber almost 50, the report says.
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