World

Journalism faces a popularity crisis

It cannot be said that the latest edition of the Digital News Report (DNR), an annual report on global news habits made by the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford and the University of Navarra, brings good news to journalists. . The data indicate a drop in news consumption, interest in the topics covered and trust in the media. Given this situation, the authors offer some recommendations.

The study, based on a questionnaire applied to citizens from five continents, finds a certain information fatigue in an important part of news consumers. If in 2015 two thirds of the interviewees said they were “very interested” in the news in general, now the percentage does not even reach 50%. The most evident manifestation of this fatigue is the growing percentage of those who decide to actively avoid information, at least for a while, or from certain subjects. This trend, observed since the publication of the DNR, is especially noticeable among those under 35 years old.

One of the reasons given by the “fugitives” is of a quantitative nature: they manifest a saturation by the excess of information about some topics that cause them sadness or anguish, singularly the coronavirus and the war in Ukraine. But they also express complaints that we could consider qualitative: for example, that many vehicles – especially those with traditional headlines – do not offer adequate coverage, either because of the low diversity of voices, for a an excessively formal tone, or due to a political bias, a reason cited by a third of those who deliberately departed from the consumption of news.

Lack of trust

Nevertheless, distrust not only increases among this minority group, but also among media consumers in general. This closes a parenthesis of two years in which levels had fallen; something that was then attributed to the “objectifying” role that journalism had played during the pandemic.

The report shows that the level of veracity attributed to the media varies greatly by region. It is especially low in Eastern and Southern Europe and Latin America (only a third of respondents, on average, claim to trust “most news most of the time”), and highest in Northern and Central Europe and Africa (about 50% or more agree with this statement). Nevertheless, some countries break regional standards. For example, respondents from Brazil and Portugal express greater trust in the press than their close neighbors, and the opposite occurs with the United Kingdom and the United States.

In theory, objectivity remains an ideal valued by most consumers, but some data point out that this demand is, at least, paradoxical. For example, young people denounce more than the old the politicization of the media. However, they are also the ones who, to a greater extent, consider that journalists “should be able to express their personal opinions when telling the news”: so believe half of those interviewed with less than 18 years, against only 25% of those over

.

Polarization: differences by country

According to the authors, the growing impression that journalism is politicized does not correspond to an increase in the “objective” polarization, which the report measures according to the distance between the political profile of the audience of the main vehicles and that of the population in general.

Nevertheless, the picture varies depending on the country. In general, in Northern Europe the most consumed media, often public television channels, are centrist and have gained a reputation for being objective.

Something similar occurs in the UK with the BBC (although recently is losing some of its prestige among conservatives); however, next to the public chain, there are other vehicles that are also very popular, but further away from the political center (The Guardian, on the left, or the Daily Mail, on a non-conservative right). On the other hand, in the United States, the main vehicles are very much on the right or left, without being able to speak of a centrist reference that manages to attract people of different ideological affinities.

Less brand loyalty and more mediation from networks

One of the worst news in the report for journalists is that fewer and fewer people access the news through the sites or the newspapers’ own applications, while the number of those who arrive through a social network grows, often without having entered it for that purpose . In this sense, one could say that brand loyalty is falling; on the other hand, spontaneous behavior increases: meeting with the information rather than seeking it for itself.

This attitude is especially frequent among young people. The report finds a growing generation gap between those under 25 and the rest: up to , a similar percentage in each group started their informative navigation through the website or the application of a journalistic brand; Currently, while the habits of those over 25 have just changed, only a quarter of the younger population uses these places as a starting point .

Although Facebook remains the most used social network for the consumption of news, among young people, others more focused on audiovisual gain strength, such as Instagram and TikTok. However, only 15% of them access news from the latter, which is explained by the limitations of the format. The report cites two users, a boy of 22 years old and a girl of

, with different opinions on the suitability of these platforms as sources of information. The first points out that “everything about them denotes a lack of professionalism and rigor; they cannot be trusted, in addition to being odiously noisy”. The second acknowledges the lack of credibility, but highlights “the presentation”. On the other hand, he admits that his consumption of information often follows the pattern of being on TikTok for other reasons (“scrolling the feed“) , the algorithm will suggest some news.

The (slow) untying of the unbranded journalist

In the struggle to retain the audience, Traditional brands don’t just compete with social networks. Recently they also have to face private journalists who publish their content on platforms such as Substack or Medium, often after gaining prestige in traditional media, and seeking to build a readership by emphasizing their personal focus. Although greater personalization of content – ​​as opposed to corporatism of the brand – is another demand from the younger audience, it does not seem that for now this type of journalism is attracting a significant number of them.

In general , the personalities of the world of information best known among the interviewees continue to be linked to traditional vehicles, and especially to television: program presenters or analysts. However, the young audience also cites stars of “alternative journalism”: influencers on social networks, youtubers, podcasters or comedians.

The level of media polarization in each country is reflected in the corresponding reports. While in the United Kingdom or Northern Europe the most recognized communicators are some political analysts valued for their objectivity, in the United States and Brazil they are mainly nominated journalists or commentators famous for their independence or their polemical attitude.

Recommendations

Together, the DNR reflects a scenario full of difficulties for journalism, especially with regard to young people, who are the ones who will have to economically sustain vehicles in the future. In this sense, the authors offer some proposals regarding the tone and content of the information.

For example, in order to fight against “information fatigue”, which young people point out most notably, they recommend adopting a constructive approach, capable of transmitting hope. Another proposal is to improve the clarity of the news. Although it is not the main reason for the lack of interest or lack of trust in the media, a significant percentage of respondents, especially under 22 years old, marks this as an obstacle. Combining formats (text, video, graphics) can bring depth or proximity to the presentation of facts. Specifically, the authors point out that videos generate stronger connections with the audience, and therefore can help to retain them.

Other problems diagnosed by the report are more difficult to solve; for example, how to maintain rigor in the informative pieces hosted on social networks such as TikTok or Instagram, where they have to compete for the user’s attention with other less demanding content; or how to increase the number of subscribers – or at least maintain it – in a context of growing distrust of traditional brands and economic uncertainty.

On the other hand, it would be interesting to analyze the market in more detail Northern European newsletter, which clearly shows above-average health and stability (more interest in news, more appreciation for media objectivity, more loyalty to established brands, more subscriptions), in order to learn some lessons.

©2022 Acpress. Published with permission. Original in Spanish.

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