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News readers say they are worn out by election coverage

The US presidential election in November is of global importance but news fatigue is already a problem. 62% of US adults say they are worn out by so much coverage of the campaign and candidates, a survey by Pew Research Centre shows. 35% say they like seeing a lot of this coverage.

More than half of Americans (58%) say they are following news about candidates for the 2024 presidential election very or fairly closely. Another 28% say they aren’t following it too closely, and 13% aren’t following it closely at all.

The share who are closely following election news is slightly higher now than it was in April 2020 (52%). In October 2020, however, that share increased to 75%”, the Pew resort says.

“This year, Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party are slightly more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to say they are closely following election news (64% vs. 58%).”

As in past presidential elections, older adults are more likely than younger adults to say they are closely following news about the candidates. Roughly eight-in-ten adults ages 65 and older (82%) currently say this, compared with 68% of those ages 50 to 64, 48% of those ages 30 to 49, and only 34% of those ages 18 to 29.

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“Americans who are following election news closely are less likely than those who aren’t to be worn out by election coverage. Four-in-ten Americans who say they follow news about candidates very closely say they are worn out by so much coverage, compared with 77% of those who say they don’t follow it closely at all”, the Pew report shows.

Republicans are slightly less likely than Democrats to say they are worn out by election coverage (58% vs. 66%). This gap is driven by conservative Republicans (55%), who are less likely than moderate or liberal Republicans (65%) to feel worn out.

“Younger Americans are far less likely than older ones to actively search for political news.

However, there are striking differences on this question by age. Just a quarter of ages 18 to 29 say they mostly get political news because they are looking for it, compared with 60% of those 65 and older – a gap of 35 percentage points.”

A majority (62%) say they get most of this news from journalists and news organizations. (The question did not ask how people access that news, such as through TV, print, news websites or social media.)

11% say they get most political and election news from friends, family and neighbours. Smaller shares say they get most of this news from celebrities and social media personalities (4%), politicians and political parties (3%), and ordinary people they don’t know (2%). An additional 17% say they don’t get most of their political or election news from any of these sources.

Adults under 30 are significantly more likely than those 65 and older to say they get most of this news from celebrities and social media personalities (10% vs. 1%). They are also more likely to get this news from friends, family and neighbours (18% vs. 6%).

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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. 

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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