News fatigue is becoming as familiar a phrase as fake news is to beat the news industry around the head with.
Even journalists, it seems, are finding themselves becoming fatigued about the news narrative. Alan Hunter (ex-Times and co-founder of HMB Advisory) this week recirculated a post from Washington Post columnist Amanda Ripley, who confessed she was finding herself avoiding the news because of its negativity.
Alan’s take on it was that most of the news being served up “is too relentlessly negative and consequently a turn-off”.
Why does this matter? Because the industry is struggling with some big issues that if it doesn’t resolve – paints a worrying picture for the future.
I decided to revisit the excellent Reuters Digital News Report released earlier this year because there are clear lessons to be learned – and a pathway to a hopeful future within it.
First the bad news:
News avoidance is on the rise in the UK – this is news fatigue and not just fatigue around Coronavirus.
Trust has fallen back in most countries surveyed.
Where there is selective news avoidance – there is a correlation with low trust.
There is increasing disconnection with news in print, radio and TV, while digital is flat.
More bad news:
There is a levelling off in the number of people subscribing for news – and the average age of a digital subscriber is around 50.
A large proportion of people subscribe to just a few national brands – bad news for the regionals.
The cost of living crisis is having a negative impact on this strategy.
Only 9% of people in the UK are paying for their news – the smallest percentage in all markets – and people in the UK don’t think they will increase the number of subscriptions in the year ahead.
Even registration is a problem, with only 16% per cent of UK people prepared to register email addresses – this will be increasingly important with the phasing out of third party cookies.
Most websites don’t have a clear enough value proposition to persuade people to do so.
So where is the hope?
Well, I think laying out the bad news allows us to focus on what we need to do.
In my view we are not seeing enough innovation and enough bravery to do something radically different.
Even those publishers and broadcasters who say they are doing something different – I would ask them to look at the Reuters report and ask themselves are they doing the right things and radically enough?
Take just one example:
Many people are choosing to ration or limit their exposure to news – in the UK this has doubled to 46% of those surveyed who now say they avoid news sometimes or often – citing its repetitive nature, being worn out, lack of trust and brings down their mood.
Reuters quotes topics on political crises, international conflicts, global pandemics and climate as the ones turning people away the most – especially the younger audience – and yet this is the daily diet of most national publishers and broadcasters.
So how do we turn news avoidance into new consumption?
- We need to embrace the notion of telling news differently. Having a Solutions Journalism approach to the news agenda and embedding this in the daily decision making is just one way of doing things differently. It requires a radically different approach in a newsroom.
- The celebrated work of Dmitry Shishkin’s User Needs theory ( and the FT Strategies development of it) embedded into daily news decision-making will throw a different focus on how to tell the same news in different ways and for different audiences.
- What he is yet to do, and something we were experimenting with at my former employer Archant, was further analyse which audiences come for which type of user need and through which channel eg search, direct or social. That has a markedly different approach to how you decide to present the news and at what times.
- Vice is really demonstrating how it is cracking the Tik Tok platform to make the worthy, negative news agenda interesting to a younger audience.
- There is the beginning of a migration away from web-based and app-served news sites (according to Reuters) – particularly among the young – and Facebook is dialling down its news focus. But learning how to tell news via Instagram and Tik Tok will help to engage with a younger audience. Once again, this won’t happen by osmosis – it needs real experts bringing about a new decision-making strategy and new structures in newsrooms. Merely having people in charge of engagement will not cut it.
I note with interest the announcement by Reach plc to put a focus on how to reach a youth audience and develop a new video strategy.
A project we kicked off with younger people (once again while at Archant) gave some real insight into their attitude to traditional news brands and their affiliation to them. These social natives are highly unlikely to develop the loyalty to these brands that our over-50s have. Something borne out by the Reuters research.
So Reach may need to think about how they engage and what new launches they plan that don’t link to their existing brands.
Finally, on the debate about text vs video or audio – Younger audiences say they are more likely to watch the news – but still 55% say they mostly read it – a surprising statistic for me. They cite quicker access to information, poor video experience due to pre-roll adverts and less control than reading.
And podcasts are coming back in vogue – particularly with younger audiences. Generally, 34% or people listen to one or more podcast in a month.
Tortoise are pivoting more towards podcasting – recognising a rich vein of audience engagement here.
So in conclusion
Publishers are still struggling to come to terms with the structural changes that have ravaged the industry – says Reuters.
There is an increasing disconnection with the news agenda, with interest in it and trust decreasing.
The overwhelming depressing nature of news is not helping.
And paywalls and registration gates are putting barriers in the way of the best content.
However, a radical approach to the way we tell the news narrative and understand what it is our audiences actually want from us and how to serve it to them will address this.
New newsroom structures need to be in place to reflect the emerging channels that are engaging with audiences and an acceleration of video and audio news story telling will help to attract a younger audience.
The trick here is that a massive change needs to take place in newsrooms rather than tweaks to the way they do things. Bravery will be rewarded by audiences who feel their needs are being listened to.
This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this or any other matter on this blog, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org