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Trust in Western media plummets as people avoid news

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A growing number of people around the world are deliberately avoiding news media. Nearly two out of five people polled in an annual Reuters study reported sometimes or avoiding the news, according to the survey, which was conducted by the media behemoth across 46 countries earlier this year and published on Tuesday.

Fully 38% of respondents said they avoided news coverage of certain topics, such as in this case the Covid-19 pandemic because coverage had become ‘repetitive’ and ‘depressing,’. This figure represents a surge of 10 percentage points from the figures reported in 2017.

Of those who confessed to avoiding the news, 43% complained there was too much coverage of politics and the pandemic, while 36% blamed the news for their poor mood and 29% lamented there was simply too much news to process.

News avoidance among British respondents has soared the most, with 46% claiming to shun the news ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’, nearly twice as many as in 2016. The BBC suffered the worst drop among all public media brands covered in the report, losing 20 percentage points since 2018. Among the reasons cited by UK residents for distrusting their media was a sincere belief that news organizations put their own commercial and political interests ahead of society’s. 

Nearly three out of ten (29%) of global respondents complained that the news they saw was untrustworthy or biased, while a significant portion complained it led to arguments they would rather avoid. Another 16% simply found the news useless, reporting ‘there is nothing I can do with the information.

The worldwide outlook for the media’s reputation is grim, with just 42% of respondents saying they trusted journalists ‘most of the time.’ The US leads the pack in the downward spiral, with just 26% of those polled reporting trust in the media, a three-point drop from last year.

Nearly half of the countries polled saw trust in news media fall last year, while only seven saw a rise. Study author Nic Newman blamed the high degree of political turmoil for the general dissatisfaction with biased and government-sponsored news coverage, highlighting the high rankings of Brazil, the UK and the US  among the news avoiders. ‘Subjects that journalists consider most important, such as political crises, international conflicts and global pandemics, seem to be precisely the ones that are turning some people away,’ he observed. 

Journalists must treat readers like adults, he said, calling for writers to clearly label opinions as such and avoid trying to pass off clickbait and sensationalism as ‘real’ journalism.

Younger respondents in particular reported being more distanced from popular news brands, instead consuming news through social media and search engines. Two in five individuals in the 18-24 age group reported using TikTok weekly, with 15% reporting using the micro-blogging platform to find, discuss, and share news stories. Smartphones dominate television, radio and newspapers in most countries as the primary avenue for news consumption. 

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But the switch to digital may be dooming news consumption as much as it is encouraging it, according to Newman. ‘It’s very simple. In the Soviet Union, we don’t believe our propaganda. In America, you actually believe yours!’ ~ Soviet Journalist to American journalists.

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