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Why more people avoid reading the news

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.

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. 

Reuters Institute’s annual Digital News Report recently showed that worrying news reports about the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to an increasing number of people avoiding the news. 

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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 Digital News Report said.

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.” 

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“While political communication scholarship has often treated news consumption as the cornerstone of good citizenship, we find avoiders hold uneven, weakly internalized norms about a perceived duty to stay informed, in part because they anticipate news will make them anxious without being relevant to their lives, resulting in limited engagement with news, and by extension, civic and political affairs.” 

“Promoting more informed societies requires grappling with these entrenched perspectives”, the researchers write.

They say that many perceive the actual content of news as intensely negative and largely devoid of information relevant to their lives. Many expressed deep ambivalence about the civic importance of staying informed. 

“News is seen as emotionally taxing – a source of uncertainty and lack of control – making it an obstacle to deeper political engagement in a complex and upsetting world.”

“Those we interviewed all had access to an abundant supply of news and were capable individuals navigating sometimes challenging and always demanding lives. Some of them also had an abstract sense that they ought to follow the news. Nonetheless, they consumed little of it, associating news with anxiety and believing it offered little to make them feel more in control or certain about how to navigate their lives.” 

“Balancing often weakly and unevenly internalized norms of citizenship against the perspective that news is mainly “doom and gloom” and useless “rubbish,” which only reinforces already limited efficacy, our interviewees mostly turn their backs on what some scholars have called the “primary sense-making practice of modernity”. 

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“Many do this with ambivalence, a sense that perhaps they should engage more, but their sense of civic duty is overshadowed by considerations such as self-care. Through the lens of the specific perspectives we have identified here, news avoidance is cast as a reasonable choice. It feels better than the alternative, and there is no strong sense of missing out.”

The authors say their study shows how negative preconceptions about how news feels can be a barrier to engaging in political life. 

“For some, news meant to inform in practice scrambles their sense-making abilities. When coupled with limited political efficacy, a perspective that news offers limited value casts avoidance as a reasonable response. Given well-documented benefits of regular news use for political knowledge and participation, news avoidance may reinforce inequalities between those who do and do not engage in civic life.”

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