Overload of news an increasing problem for news media and its readers

Overload of news an increasing problem for news media and its readers

Is “Slow News” the way to fight news fatigue that is a global challenge for news media? Research shows an increasing percentage of people avoiding reading the news especially after two years of reports about the pandemic followed by the war in Ukraine and inflation. Jodie Jackson, founder of News Literacy Network, argues for slow news and what she calls constructive journalism while Nieman Lab reports slow news media just attracts those who already are big consumers of news – not those who are tired of a news overload. Slow news Tortoise reports users staying too short on its site for slow journalism long-reads. 

People who don’t read the news often see it as self-care. They avoid the “doom and gloom” in the news. So long as people fear news will make them feel bad and do little to help them live their lives, those who want more people to become more regular news consumers must directly contend with these perspectives.

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These are conclusions in a study of lower or middle-class news avoiders in the UK by Benjamin Toff, Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at University of Minnesota and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and published by Taylor Francis Informa.  Their interview study was made after several reports show a trend that people avoid the news because they are upsetting. 


“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”, Reuters Institute’s annual report Digital News Report says.

Toff’s and Kleis Nielsen’s findings suggest that people’s preexisting perspectives that news is anxiety-inducing and offers them little practical value play an important role in shaping attitudes toward news and avoiding the consume news. 

“These perspectives highlight the importance of emotional dimensions of news use beyond its presumed value as a source of information.” 

There is evidence of accelerating news avoidance across several countries given the difficult and at times traumatic nature of war coverage, Reuters Institute concludes.


News avoidance is up 7 percentage points in Germany. “And while short-term news behaviours and attitudes have appeared to change in Poland – with increased news use and interest in the country closest to the conflict – even a story as newsworthy and significant as the war in Ukraine has not reversed declining levels of news interest in most countries.”

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The report says that given earlier findings that younger and less educated news audiences think news reports are hard to understand, clear ‘explainers’ and contextualisation of the Russia–Ukraine conflict, may draw in a segment of news avoiders who simply want clearer, more relevant information.

“People largely do not feel as positively about news organisations providing a different range of perspectives on the conflict. However, as the invasion continues, and as new atrocities occur daily, providing alternative perspectives is unlikely to be seen by journalists as the most pressing task”, the report from Reuters Institute says.

The Digital News Report has shown that 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.


In countries like Brazil and Germany, the proportion of 18–24s not following the war in Ukraine at all is particularly high compared with other age groups. And in the US and UK, women are slightly more likely than men to not be paying close attention to the war.

In Germany, Poland, and the US, the proportion who say they sometimes or often actively avoid the news has increased. The biggest increase of all was in Germany (+7pp), but significant increases can also be seen in Poland (+6pp) and the US (+4pp).

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“To put some of these changes in context, the increase of 7pp in Germany in just two months is larger than the 5pp increase we saw in the five years from 2017 to 2022. We know that one of the main reasons people avoid the news is because of the negative effect it has on their mood, so it would be unsurprising if the deeply depressing and concerning nature of conflict has caused more people to turn away from it”, the report says.

“In the UK and Brazil, where news avoidance was already high, we do not see evidence of a further increase – but it is equally important to note that it has not decreased either. Furthermore, in these two countries, news avoidance has already increased markedly in recent years – by 11pp from 2019 to 2022 in the case of the UK, and by 20pp in Brazil.”

“Despite the increase in news avoidance, the proportion who say they access news several times a day increased in Poland by 6pp.”


“In Poland, around 40% of people who accessed news several times a day during the conflict also say they sometimes or often actively avoid the news. The proportion who accessed the news several times a day fell by 6pp in Brazil and 4pp in Germany, and remained stable elsewhere.”

The news media are broadly seen to be doing a good job with coverage, especially on keeping people up to date on the latest news but in general, they feel the media have not performed quite as well for explaining the wider implications of the conflict or providing a different range of perspectives on it, the report concludes.

Researcher Jodie Jackson has founded News Literacy Network trying to find ways to handle the feeling of being overwhelmed by news. 

“I was an unhappy news consumer. I didn’t like the product, found it far too negative and couldn’t watch it anymore. I went from someone who watched it every single day to someone who could no longer stand it. And when I realized that actually my experience was incredibly common and finding the news too depressing is one of the single biggest reasons that people stop watching the news, I realized it was a problem rather than just my problem.” 


“So, I went back to university, I did a master’s in Positive Psychology so that I could research the impact of news on mental health. I did Positive Psychology, because I wanted to be able to understand concepts like hope, optimism, resilience, self-empowerment and the role that they play in personal and social development. And so, I became a very active campaigner for solutions focused news or constructive journalism.”  

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She talked to Moonshot News about launching the News Literacy Network a year ago to help educate people from a young age about how to become conscious news consumers, about how by changing our media diet we can change the world, about campaigning for constructive journalism.

“I created a website to provide for myself a balance. So, I curated solutions focused news content. It was called ‘What a Good Week’ and I experienced such a profound shift in changing my media diet that made me feel much more connected to the world, much more reengaged with the narrative, with the news, even being able to tune back into more problems focused news journalism that I wanted to understand it on a collective level.”

Jackson says project News Literacy gives people or helps people develop the skills to be able to reliably use the news to accurately inform them and empower them to act on that information. 


“ I believe that we should be educated about how to use the news. With any other product that is complicated and potentially harmful, it would come with an instruction manual. We don’t have an instruction manual as news consumers. And that’s what news literacy is hoping to do, equip all young children with a reliable instruction manual of how to successfully navigate the news.!

“There’s far too much information, poorly produced information that will interfere with us. Being able to do that, we can’t be passive consumers. We have to be conscious consumers. And news literacy helps develop that conscious awareness.”

The three practices she follows:

  • I try and get my news offline. And this can be a news product or a news program. And the reason why I like this is because it’s intentional, it’s deliberate. You are seeking the news. The news isn’t seeking you. 
  • Just to slow down. You don’t need to be checking in with the news every minute of every day, because the world doesn’t change that quickly. So, I’d prefer a weekly news magazine or program. This is called slow journalism. I prefer reading from slow news organizations, because they have time to fact check. 
  • My third recommendation is to include solutions, because if you don’t actively seek them, you’re not going to see them and without them, we’re limiting ourselves to only learning from failure. And it can create a fairly distorted picture of reality, but it can also be a very disempowering one too.


But not all agree that slow news is the way to fight new fatigue. Nieman Lab reports that research by Kim Andersen, assistant professor at the University of Southern Denmark, shows that slow news attracts people who already are big consumers of news but slow news does not attract those who feel overwhelmed by news. His research was based on Danish slow news site Zetland.

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The surveys included asking respondents about how and how frequently they consume news, as well as how much they experience news fatigue. Andersen wanted to see if news fatigue or news use affected slow-news consumption, as well as how slow-news consumption affected news fatigue or news use.

Nieman Lab reports his survey shows people who felt more news fatigue were less likely to use Zetland’s slow news. But people who were already consuming more news on a regular basis were more likely to use their Zetland subscription.

The Lab’s report concludes, “that…makes a lot of sense. People who already consume a lot of news are probably people who enjoy getting a lot of news, and they’re more likely to be interested in trying out a new news source.” 

“And people who feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of headlines aren’t likely candidates to become big consumers of something new. But Andersen’s findings do go against one of slow journalism’s strongest pitches — that it could draw in new and different kinds of audiences than other, faster news sources already do”, Nieman Lab reports.


Slow news startup Tortoise Media reports that readers stay at the site for around four minutes which is much too short for the publication’s original idea. Tortoise launched three years ago going for slow journalism, published less frequently and with long-reads that would take approximately 30 minutes to read.

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Tortoise has now focused on audio to reach a younger audience and co-founder Katie Vanneck-Smith has reported that the audio team was profitable within 12 months of operation but that Tortoise overall was not.

Pressgazette reports that Tortoise offers a mixture of ‘always-on’ daily and weekly shows, plus a broader “box set” series.

“The Slow Newscast, for example, drills into one topic dominating the news. Recent episodes have zoned in on the crashing of the UK economy, controversial online figure Andrew Tate and scandals in the British Virgin Islands.”

“Episode topics which really take off tend to get commissioned into larger, limited-series podcasts. A good example is Londongrad, a seven-episode series (plus one bonus episode) about the Lebedev family, and how Russian money has seeped its way into the English capital”, Pressgazette reports.

So the question is still open: how can news media re-engage those who complain about an overload of information and those who say the news doesn’t make sense and is sometimes difficult to understand? More thoughtful reporting, perhaps slower and with explainers? War, inflation etc will unfortunately remain a distressing read. 

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