Is News Avoidance Really the Crisis We Think It Is? 

The way we interact with news is changing.   

The Reuters Digital News Report 2023 revealed that people are showing less interest in news, leading to a decrease in overall consumption. This trend has persisted year-on-year, giving rise to the debate around news avoidance.  

Put simply, news avoidance refers to the behaviour of individuals who actively choose not to engage with news content. This simplistic definition, however, hides a wider debate around its various definitions and types and how much of a concern it should warrant.

Exploring this topic further requires a detailed look at different aspects of news avoidance. This article provides a brief overview of the definitions, highlights the gaps in categorisation, and provides some initial takeaways for publishers.  

The spectrum of news consumption: From core readers to news avoiders  

News readers 

News readers fall along a broad spectrum when it comes to news consumption. We’ve identified that news readers fall into three main categories

  • “Habitual Readers” or Core Readers: These are individuals who return to a publication at least 10 times in a month. They’re the publication’s backbone, regularly engaging with content. 
  • “Light Readers” or Occasional Readers: This group engages with news more sporadically, not as frequently as core readers, but still shows some level of consistent interest. 
  • “Zombies” or One-time Readers: These readers engage with a publication once a month.  

There is significant segmentation within these groups and, notably, amongst individuals who consume no news at all. These news avoiders are generally categorised into two groups: selective and consistent news avoiders.  

Selective news avoiders 

Selective news avoidance involves individuals actively choosing to skip over specific news content. The Digital News Report 2023 found that a sizable 36% of people surveyed admit they sometimes or often avoid the news. This is up 7 points from 2017 but slightly down from the peak in 2022.  

Selective news avoidance behaviours vary, but the following outlines significant trends in what they look like. Note: Respondents could select multiple options. 

Source: Reuters Digital News Report 2023

Consistent news avoiders 

Consistent news avoidance refers to the deliberate and regular practice of not engaging with news content. It’s a behaviour that goes beyond selective news avoidance by being more disengaged from news sources and content across various media platforms. 

It’s notably more prevalent among young adults, women, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Political engagement also plays a crucial role, with a stark divide between those deeply interested in politics—who rarely avoid news—and those indifferent to it, who often do.  

There are a multitude of reasons why consistent news avoiders may not engage with the news. For example:  

  • Distrust in mainstream news sources: Some may turn to alternative or ideologically aligned sources for political information, rejecting mainstream news as biased. 
  • The news content is unappealing: Many avoiders struggle to relate to news content, especially politics. 
  • The news format is unappealing: Young people typically lack attachment to traditional news formats. These digital natives consume significantly more news via social media in quick and engaging formats —the “news finds me” phenomenon— and seek out news less actively. 
  • The news produces unpleasant emotions: Emotional responses to news content, including feelings of negativity and feeling overwhelmed, contribute to avoidance. 

Rethinking how we understand news avoiders  

The categorisation of news readers helps segment the different audience interests and needs, but it is also important to unpack where the categorisation may be lacking. This section aims to do just that.  

Is selective news avoidance really an issue?  

If individuals limit their exposure to certain types of news but still consume a significant amount overall, can this truly be classified as avoidance? Research by Dr Palmera, Toff, and Kleis Nielsen indicates that selective avoiders, who might bypass certain news sources or topics, often remain as informed as those who don’t engage in selective avoidance.  

This observation forces a re-evaluation of our understanding of news engagement, suggesting a continuum of behaviours from selective to comprehensive engagement rather than a strict dichotomy of engagement versus avoidance. 

It also pushes us to reconsider the implications for news publishers. For instance, it has been observed that selective avoiders show a relative preference for positive or solutions-focused content. This preference signals an opportunity for news organisations to diversify their content strategies, incorporating more positive and solutions-based stories to attract and engage this audience segment.  

News outsiders: A better term? 

The concept of “news outsiders” is gaining traction as a more nuanced way to understand individuals who do not engage with traditional news media. Unlike the term “news avoiders,” which implies a deliberate choice, “news outsiders” suggests that certain individuals are not being adequately reached or served by existing news formats and content. This distinction is important because it shifts the focus from individual choice to the broader systemic and structural challenges within media dissemination and consumption. 

Schibsted’s IN/LAB initiative is at the forefront of addressing this issue by experimenting with new approaches to connect with these underrepresented audiences. They aim to prototype future news experiences that cater to the diverse needs and preferences of different societal groups, particularly those characterised by lower socioeconomic status, younger age groups, and residents of multicultural areas. By embracing design thinking and emerging technologies, IN/LAB seeks to establish trustful dialogues and genuinely listen to the perspectives of news outsiders, identifying pain points in current news journalism that contribute to their disengagement. 

Takeaways for publishers 

The message for publishers is unmistakable: a significant opportunity exists to win back and engage audiences who have distanced themselves from news content. Understanding why people avoid news—whether due to negativity or irrelevance—can guide publishers to adapt their content and formats.  

Here are some ways publishers can take action:  

  1. Adjust news channels and formats: Customising news formats and seeking innovative methods to connect with news avoiders in their habitual digital spaces can narrow the divide between news organisations and potential readers. This approach may include tapping into social media, podcasts, or other digital channels favoured by younger or more diverse demographic groups. 
  1. Consider adopting a constructive news strategy: Incorporating a greater number of positive news stories emerges as another pivotal strategy for publishers. By focusing on solution-based journalism, publishers can mitigate the negativity bias prevalent in news coverage and address one of the preferences of selective news avoiders.  
  1. Engage directly with news avoiders: Understanding their reasons to fully or selectively avoid the news opens up invaluable opportunities to tailor news content more effectively. Such engagement can uncover specific themes, presentation styles, and formats that resonate with news avoiders, offering a blueprint for making news more appealing. 


Sarah Cool-Fergus

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