opinionPierre Ruetschi Managing Director of the Swiss Press Club
The phrase has been repeated in recent months. “Can’t wait for us to continue”, i.e. to normality, to the standards of the past. We are nearly there. The Covid has disappeared from radar screens and the fighting in Ukraine is no longer shown on the front lines.
The media accompanied the movement when not participating in it. You clearly feel the strong fatigue of the reader-Internet user-TV viewer-listener. We know that the audience’s attention rate, which was at its maximum at the beginning of the crisis, is rapidly falling, as the health crisis has shown once again. Then it becomes sensible to loosen up and review the “storytelling”, even if the “hard news” hasn’t lost any of its real impact. So the new Omicron wave that is drowning Portugal is already licking our shores. As for the war in Ukraine, although fleeting on screens, it risks, just like yesterday, degenerating into a larger, even nuclear, conflict.
But now too much stress and “news fatigue”. A break was imposed. Don’t overwhelm your audience with repetitive, highly anxiety-provoking bad news at the risk of causing your audience’s dissatisfaction. That’s a recommendation derived from the Reuters Institute’s recently released “Digital News Report” 2022, a survey based on interviews with 90,000 people in 46 countries, including Switzerland. She points to the growing proportion of news consumers who are “selectively avoiding news.” In other words, 38% of respondents in 2022 will voluntarily isolate themselves from certain information, compared to 29% in 2017.
“Disinterest in news is a publisher’s nightmare.”
Why? They feel there is too much information about Covid and politics (38%), say it depresses them (36%) and think they are biased or unreliable (29%). Finally, 16%, particularly of the less educated young people, say the information only increases their sense of confusion. According to the study, the war in Ukraine only intensified the trend. This development is confirmed by a general decline in interest in “news”, which can be spectacular depending on the country. Between 2015 and 2022, the rate of those interested in news fell from 85% to 55% in Spain, from 67% to 47% in the USA, and from 74% to 57% in Germany. In Switzerland, the decline is limited, from 57% to 50%. Another crucial factor is trust in the information. In the United States, the Red Lantern, only 26% of respondents have confidence in the reported facts. The same massive loss of confidence in France (29%), accentuated by the “yellow vest” crisis, according to the Reuters Institute. Switzerland fares better at 46%, four points above average, while Finland emerges as the overall winner for interest in news (increasing!) and more than two-thirds of the population trusting the information provided. Overall, the picture is rather destabilizing.
In the relentless struggle for attention in the digital age, disinterest in news across all platforms is every publisher’s nightmare. In order to increase the quality, reliability and accessibility of the information necessary to seduce an audience that is a priori “interested” in the information, the media know how to do it, at least on paper. But conquering this growing fringe of the population, especially young people who cut themselves off from information and the media like the three monkeys, is a much more difficult challenge. It is a truism that information is the raw material of the media. Abandoning it and replacing it with entertainment or other fake and shocking content that is the blood of social networks would be tantamount to hara-kiri.
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