No News Might be Good News

Why are people avoiding ‘the news?’ Perhaps it is simply proof that it is easier to avoid propaganda than to try and wade through it 24/7.

24 June 2023 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News

I worked ‘in the news’ for 25 years and I cannot remember the last time I watched an actual news broadcast. Well, other than the ones that are banned in the collective West.

And I am not alone. I think there are many valid reasons for this but I also know that most of those valid reasons cannot be freely talked about here, let alone in the press.

And people are not stupid. Well, most of the time. Most people know when they are being manipulated by their governments, let alone the press. And why subject yourself to 24/7 Propaganda?

The truth is that I talk to many people around the world, outside the West, and if you mention ‘the war,’ most will ask: Which war?

Which war, indeed.

James Porteous | Clipper Media

Note: Photos are a sampling of headlines seen in newspapers in the West.

For a growing number of people, no news is good news

24 June 2024 | Paul Anderson | The National

Iused to be a real news junkie,” says Louise, a 31-year-old lawyer who lives (like me) in Ipswich, England. “It was two TV news programmes every night, radio news in the morning before starting work, constantly checking the BBC News app and the Guardian during the day. Sometimes I even sat glued to the BBC 24-hour news channel for hours.

But for some reason I’ve stopped doing it since the pandemic. Maybe I just had too much time at home during lockdown, I don’t know. I sort-of keep in touch with the news, but most of the time I don’t bother.”

Louise is not alone. According to a prestigious annual report on global news consumption by the Reuters Institute, based in Oxford, England, the proportion of news consumers who say they avoid news, often or sometimes, is more than one third, close to an all-time high, all over the world.

The 2023 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, published last week, is an online survey of 46 countries with samples of 2,000-plus respondents in each, conducted by the UK-based polling company YouGov. It says that news avoidance is particularly marked among women and young adults.

Are the headlines too often depressing — pandemic, war, refugees, economic crisis, famine, you name it – so we switch off to keep ourselves sane? Or are too many big stories repetitive, so we aren’t interested in the latest tiny detail when we feel we know the essential narrative? Or maybe there’s something about the always-online world that means we are losing the ability to concentrate on anything for more than a few seconds?

A bit of all that, the report says cautiously — with reason, because there are big variations from country to country.

It seems counterintuitive, but the report finds that the closer Europeans live to Russia, the more likely they are to skip news of the war in Ukraine, possibly as a mental-health coping mechanism.

Interminable domestic political squabbles and polarisation are also big turn-offs – the Trump saga in the US, Brexit in the UK, Catalan independence in Spain. Everyone everywhere seems to want more upbeat stories.

And the rise of TikTok and WhatsApp as young people’s favourite social media platforms really has left many of them with the attention spans of gnats — though the report doesn’t put it quite so bluntly. It also doesn’t really address the argument that current affairs fatigue comes and goes depending on what’s in the news.

But news avoidance isn’t all that’s in the report. Some of what it says is familiar: readership of print continues to decline, as does the dominance of Facebook and Google as access routes to news. Consumers remain very wary of “fake news”, particularly on social media.

Other trends it detects are new, however. What appeared five years ago to be a slow but sure growth in the number of readers prepared to pay for subscriptions to online publications, particularly newspapers, seems to have stalled in many of the countries where it had taken off (and in any case has generally benefited only one player in each market).

Worryingly for journalists and established news organisations, the report also records a decline in trust in journalists as a source of news and a decline in direct access to newspapers’ and broadcasters’ websites — although there’s also great suspicion of big tech companies choosing news for you by algorithms.

OK, you might think, all very well, but it’s only a survey: why take it too seriously? One reason is its origin. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford (to give it its full title) has established a deserved global reputation for the rigour of its work.

It is not, however, the venerable institution its name might suggest. It was set up formally only in 2006, though its origins go back to the 1980s, when the Reuters news agency was floated on the London Stock Exchange.

Reuters was founded by the German emigre Paul Reuter in 1851 and became an instant success thanks to the growing international electric telegraph network and the thirst for news from the quarter of the world (in terms of population and land area) in the British empire. By the early 1980s, it had been a giant in the world of international news for more than a century and was owned by a trust controlled by the main UK newspapers.

The company needed to assuage worries that its reputation for reliable reporting would be compromised by the flotation – which was designed to cash in on its lucrative financial market data services, by the early 1980s accounting for 90 per cent of its revenues.

So one of the things it did to reassure doubters was set up a charitable foundation to fund journalists from poor countries and a fellowship to allow mid-career journalists from anywhere to study for a year at Oxford, one of the UK’s elite universities and its most ancient.

Over the past four decades, this perhaps opportunist manoeuvre has morphed into one of the world’s most reputable think tanks analysing trends in news media, core-funded by the Thomson Reuters Foundation (as the Reuters Foundation became after its parent company was taken over in 2008 by the Canadian media conglomerate Thomson Corporation).

It runs seminars and lectures and produces research papers throughout the year — and its website and newsletters are excellent — but the Digital News Report is its flagship, an ever-more-extensive international online opinion poll that has appeared annually since 2012.

Critics argue that it is skewed towards the rich world, and it’s true that three quarters of the markets surveyed are affluent European, North American and Asia-Pacific countries. But India, Thailand, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are there, too, along with several Latin American countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Peru.

Obviously, an online survey can only sample people who are online — which means the better-off, particularly in poorer countries, something the report acknowledges freely.

But the most important omissions are less to do with GDP per capita or the affluence of respondents than with politics. Countries whose governments don’t allow opinion polling cannot be surveyed — so there’s nothing in the Digital News Report on Russia or mainland China, and Turkey is the only Middle Eastern market sampled.

I’m not sure what would turn my local lawyer Louise into a news junkie again. But I’m still one, and I look forward to the day that the Digital News Report becomes truly global.

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