How worried should you be about rising news fatigue?

How worried should you be about rising news fatigue?
Meinolf Ellers, Strategic Business Developer at Germany Press Agency (DPA) talking to African Union Media Fellows on June 27, 2022

Journalists and media organisations will have to innovate new business, storytelling and content distribution models if they are to stay relevant and win hearts of the audience whose interest for news has been shrinking over time.

Multiple studies suggest that interest in news by a section of the public continue to decline globally with many news consumers questioning why they should listen to the journalists.

Experts are worried that this trend, especially in young audiences, is a threat to political opinion building and the abilities to participate in the public discourse, hence undermines the basis of an informed society and democracy.

The 2022 Digital News Report by The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism show many people are turning away from the news media and in some cases disconnecting from news altogether due to factors ranging from lack of trust or the depressing nature of the coverage, among other factors.

Its findings indicate that interest in news fell sharply across markets globally, from 63 per cent in 2017 to 51 per cent.

Similar findings were echoed in results of an earlier study published in April 2021 under the Use The News project by the Germany-based Leibniz Institute for Media Research.

It showed that there is a growing distance by users towards news and journalism with many, across different age brackets and backgrounds, wondering why they should listen to the journalists, or not understanding the relevance of news for their personal lives.

The trend, experts say, partly has to do with the fact that the unfiltered access to the digital sea of real time information has become a source of stress and overload for many.

As a result, it has given rise to a new global phenomena dubbed “news fatigue“ and “news avoidance” with many people actively avoiding news about politics and a range of other subjects.

The youth

Respondents in the earlier study said the avoid news because they think it cannot be trusted, or because it brings down their mood. 

Others say the news leads to arguments they would rather avoid, or that it’s too hard to understand.

But it is the young audience, specifically those under 30, whom news organisations often struggle to reach, according to the study findings. This is a group that has grown up with social media.

The study details show subjects that journalists consider most important, such as political crises, international conflicts, global pandemics, and climate catastrophes seem to be precisely the ones that are turning some people away from news.

“We really have to change our mindsets in order to stay relevant. We need to understand the daily needs of a consumer,” said Meinolf Ellers, who is Strategic Business Developer at Germany Press Agency (DPA).

Mr. Ellers was addressing African journalists who are part of the African Union Media Fellowship during a study tour in Germany last week.

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In his view, news illiteracy, especially in young audiences, is of great  concern and is increasingly threatening political opinion building and people's abilities to participate in the public discourse.

“There is need to address the disconnect between the young generation and newsrooms.”