The Reuters Institute has reported an upsurge in the number of people that actively avoid the news. News avoidance is a growing problem that threatens not just the media industry but democracy at large. While news avoidance still existed in earlier years, the COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled this trend and worsened an already bad situation.
In early 2020 when news of the pandemic first hit, most of the world sought answers and information on the pandemic from news sources. Initially, there was an increase in news consumption, but this changed as the pandemic progressed. Some people, feeling stressed and helpless about the situation, began to avoid the news because of the anxiety it caused them.
In this article, we will be discussing news avoidance, its effects, and how to get back the news avoidant consumers.What Is News Avoidance And What Causes It?
News avoidance refers to intentionally resisting news. News avoidant people will either altogether avoid the news or drastically reduce the amount of information they consume. To understand news avoidance, we have to delve into its causes.
With social media and 24-hour news cycles, it has become effortless to access the news at any time and any place. While this has been good news to some people, others have felt overwhelmed by the constant barrage of news. Consequently, many people have chosen to avoid the news as a way of easing their information overload.
Distrust of the Media
Edelman's trust barometer found that 61% of Americans are skeptical about the objectivity of the media. The people questioned in the study believed that the media had a problem with remaining unbiased and non-partisan in their reporting.
The mainstream media has also faced accusations of fuelling misinformation with the New York Congresswoman casting an accusatory finger at it for spreading the misinformation that contributed to the January 6 riots. As a result, this growing distrust in the media has triggered news avoidance in some people.
From a pandemic to capital riots, the news headlines are often brimming with negative stories. The grim news stories covering the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a toll on people's mental health. Consequently, some individuals opt to avoid the news to avoid the anxiety it gives them.
How Does News Avoidance Affect Media Organisations?
Media organizations are the biggest casualties of news avoidance, they have been impacted in the following ways:
Loss of consumers
The news industry's consumers consist of individuals who read, watch, or listen to the news.
The media industry has been dealt a massive blow since 41% of Americans claim they sometimes avoid the news. A rise in news avoidance spells a decrease in the size of the news industry's market.
A smaller market size means that fewer people will be buying news products such as newspapers and online subscriptions, which threatens the money-making power of media companies, thus threatening their existence and well-being.
Loss of advertising revenue
Media organizations also rely on advertisement for revenue, and the rise of news aversion has affected their ability to raise this revenue.
News aversion has caused a decline in the number of people consuming the news yet advertisers want to place their ads on platforms where they will receive the most attention. This has resulted in advertisers pulling out from traditional media, and instead opting to place their ads on other more popular platforms.
This loss of revenue could mean layoffs for people working in the media, as organizations seek to cut expenses.
How Do We Solve News Avoidance?
Given the threat news avoidance poses to media organizations, there is a pressing need to find lasting solutions to the problem that address the causes of news avoidance.
While the media can't solely focus on positive news, negative news can still be countered by practicing constructive journalism. Constructive journalism is a method of reporting that involves finding solutions and highlighting examples that have been proven work.
Constructive journalism addresses the problem of sensationalized news, and it eliminates a lot of the negativity in the news. As a result, adopting constructive journalism will help bring back avoidant news consumers that shun the news for its negative nature.
Now more than ever, there is a need to separate opinion from facts. More people have become distrustful of the objectivity of the news. Consequently, journalists face the daunting task of preventing their personal views from seeping into their work.
Moreover, journalists can earn the trust of the public by being transparent with the public. One way of achieving transparency is educating the public on the fact-checking process followed by journalists. Doing this will reduce public skepticism on the integrity of the news reported and reduce news avoidance based on distrust of the media.
While speed is often the goal for news publishers, information overload can be countered by bridging old-school long-form reporting with new-age social media articles. It involves publishing more in-depth stories in lieu of little-researched pieces. The British Tortoise Media is an example of a news provider that has successfully implemented this reporting style.
Media organizations can also solve information overload by publishing newsletters or producing podcasts that summarize the day's biggest stories. The New York Times has adopted this strategy on their platform – The Daily.
News avoidance is a rising trend that the COVID-19 has amplified. If left unaddressed, news avoidance poses a risk to the profitability and existence of the media industry. There is a need to address the causes of news avoidance. Journalists and the entire media at large have to be innovative in fighting the news avoidance menace.