Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
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Publishers are tackling news avoidance with non-news verticals: Here’s how

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The 2023 Digital News Report highlights the continued high level of news avoidance

In 2022, the Digital News Report showed selective news avoidance – a practice where audiences take active steps to not get news by turning off notifications or even their devices when news comes up.

The 2023 data indicated a continued decline of people who said they were extremely interested in news while the average overall news avoidance declined from 38% to 36%.

Source: Digital News Report 2023 by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

That said, it still remains a head-scratcher for most media managers who have seen their audiences turn away from news after some peak pandemic years when everyone seemed overinterested in news.

The Digital News Report this year also drilled down on ways these avoiders act against being exposed to news, what exactly are they trying to keep off their information diet and what topics might they be interested in.

According to the report, almost four in ten (39%) said they had avoided news on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, followed by national politics (38%), issues around social justice (31%), news about crime (30%), and celebrity news (28%).

Selective avoidance of Ukraine news was highest in many of the countries closest to the conflict, the authors reported. They also pointed out the data may not suggest a lack of interest in Ukraine from nearby countries but rather a desire to manage time or protect mental health from the very real horrors of war.

I experienced this on my own – I run a weekly indie newsletter bringing a week-ahead look each Monday. A year ago, I added a section where I sum up the latest news from the war in Ukraine. Ever since I got very positive feedback on this which corroborates the report findings.

Audiences are interested, but news organisations might have overexposed their readers to too much news from the front. But more research would be needed to confirm this theory.

Source: Digital News Report 2023 by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Still, some news publishers have seen returns to pre-pandemic website visits after a 2022 dip in traffic, Greg Piechota of INMA pointed out recently.

According to data based on INMA Benchmarks, an ongoing study of performance of 175 news brands globally, these publishers have seen a return to growth in digital subscriptions and also a return to pre-pandemic engagement levels with online sessions, a measure of frequency, being a bit or 4% higher than in 2019, Piechota pointed out.

These findings might point to a more nuanced understanding of the Reuters Institute general data from all consumers, which is that quality news producers are seeing growth again and return of audience growth or engagement.

It also doesn’t have to contradict the findings of the Digital News Report as these publishers, and let’s take The New York Times as an example, have been investing in diversification of their content, especially in non-news verticals.

There is also a seeming correlation between the profile of news avoiders, being younger and less educated, and readers of quality news websites with digital subscription who are usually older and more educated.

Looking at other publishers in Central Europe, I also found that those who have begun investing at least some resources into building non-news verticals are doing better relative to those who continued pushing mostly hard news.

The Digital News Report also found that news avoiders said they are more interested in positive newssolutions journalism (although the report suggests they wouldn’t use this term on their own) or explainers.

I must say I’m a bit sceptical, similar to what the authors of the report hint on. The avoiders answering they would be more interested in positive, solutions-oriented and explainer-based content feels like the age long dichotomy in when you ask your readers what they want and they would tell you in-depth analysis when in fact it is more cat-based memes content that would draw more eyeballs.

I suppose the answer might be a more methodical approach to reader needs that is being observed mostly by quality news publishers, and that is building non-news verticals that make sense for your content strategy and audiences at the same time.

David Tvrdon

This piece was originally published in The Fix