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Thursday 13th July 2023

News avoidance is not the fault of the messengers – so don’t shoot them

As a former journalist, it saddens me to read that more people in the UK avoid news and have some of the lowest levels of trust in the media outlets delivering it than many other western countries.

The statistics make rather depressing reading: Trust in news in the UK was at 33% – joint 12th lowest among the 46 countries polled; despite the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis, interest in news has also gone down, declining sharply from 70% engagement in 2015 to 43% this year, according to a new study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Part of what makes the UK media landscape so democratic and scrutinising is the variety of our media outlets. Readers, listeners and viewers may not agree with the views of some – or many – of them. But it is precisely this rich tapestry of news coverage and opinion that makes ours one of the most respected media industries in the world.

News avoidance is also a key concern for media organisations – many of whom are also not trusted by members of the public. 

As reported by Press Gazette, with a lack of trust comes criticism of news media and the highest levels of criticism were found in the UK, Greece, Philippines and US.

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There were also varying degrees of trust between the 15 UK newsbrands survey respondents were asked about, according to the RISJ. The BBC was most trusted (61% of people said they trusted it compared to 21% who did not). All public broadcasters increased their trust levels in the last year along with national broadsheet news titles. Least trusted were the tabloids (The Sun 13%; The Mirror 23%).

Among those who mistrust news sources, there is a belief that the news agenda is set by algorithms using search engines, social media and other platforms. People who regularly and actively engage with news and current affairs, however, believe that a combination of algorithmic and human editors’ selection of news are good ways of choosing stories.

As RISJ research assistant Felix Simon said: “This trend of news avoidance and mistrust is particularly prominent among younger users who find platforms more accessible, entertaining, and are drawn to interactive formats with a strong emphasis on personalities. This competitive environment has made it even more challenging for publishers to reach people—and will continue to do so.”

Members of the public who don’t engage with or are critical of the mainstream media must remember that the alternative is a media controlled by the state such as in China or Russia where its citizens are not allowed to know what is really going on in their countries.

“Part of what makes the UK media landscape so democratic and scrutinising is the variety of our media outlets”

News avoidance is not the fault of the messengers – so don’t shoot them. News avoidance has come about because of the saturation of news and content in our lives. And media organisations are merely responding to demand – someone is voraciously consuming news 24/7, otherwise there wouldn’t be a business model for it.

We can however ‘do’ news differently – and that’s where PR comes in. Having made the move, I am now in the business of pitching and framing stories in a way that appeals to broadcasters and newspapers.

The kind of coverage we’re uniquely positioned to provide has massive value for the businesses we work with and, we like to think, the audience who reads or hears about our clients.

We know how to navigate a complex field and reach stakeholders in spite of mitigating factors.

I think restoring faith and navigating issues of trust in the news media start closer to home with us all considering how and what we consume in terms of content.

From a PR perspective, we work with the best media outlets in the country and in turn that gives confidence to our clients that they are reaching the right audiences.

We, and our clients, continue to value those trusted sources and it is crucial that we understand the continuing importance of traditional print and broadcast news in spite of historically low levels of trust and engagement.

“I think restoring faith and navigating issues of trust in the news media start closer to home with us all considering how and what we consume in terms of content”