Nieman Foundation at Harvard
The Society of Professional Journalists faces a “dire situation”
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July 23, 2020, 12:58 p.m.
Audience & Social

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has been releasing reports about coronavirus news consumption in the U.K. every two weeks — that’s “fortnightly” to the locals — since mid-April. Now, they’ve compiled their results into a report, released Thursday, that found there’s been a “slow and consistent decline” in news use since the initial surge in attention. The drop is particularly steep among women and younger audiences.

Although interest in news remains higher, on average, than before the pandemic’s onset, there’s a widening gap between younger audiences (18 to 54-year-olds) and older ones (those over 55) who access Covid-19 news at least once a day. What began as a 12 percent gap doubled to 24 percent by the end of June as news use plummeted among the younger group.

Differences between men and women also grew over the 10-week period:

At the start of the epidemic, large and roughly equal proportions of both men (78%) and women (79%) were accessing COVID-19 news at least once a day on average. However, an 8 percent gap had emerged slowly by late June, with women less likely to regularly access COVID-19 news than men.

The report found a similar gender gap in news avoidance, defined as the attempt (successful or not) to avoid Covid-19 news by changing a channel, cutting down on doomscrolling, or otherwise. Week after week, women were consistently more likely — by 6 to 10 percent — to say they purposely abstained from news than men. By late June, a quarter of women said they “always” or “often” avoid the news, compared to 18 percent of male respondents.

These findings, again, are based on data from the U.K. only. They seem, though, to echo what a recent paper drawing on surveys from 35 countries found. That study, which included information from pre-pandemic times, also found younger people and women systematically avoid news more frequently — but that factors like a nation’s press freedoms and political stability matter as well.

In addition to gender and age, the RISJ survey also evaluated news use across education and household income. (They found there are differences in levels of Covid-19 news use by household income and levels of formal education, but gaps have remained at the same size since mid-April as news use has declined in parallel across the different income and education levels.)

Unfortunately, though, the study failed to acquire enough Black and minority respondents to complete an analysis that took race and ethnicity into account.

There are important and troubling differences in how the crisis has impacted different ethnic groups too, often compounding intersecting inequalities; but our number of respondents from individual black and minority ethnic groups — particularly in later survey waves — are too small to allow for robust statistical analysis, and we therefore have to leave this important dimension of the crisis aside in this report.

You can find the series of fortnightly factsheets for the U.K. Covid-19 News and Information Project here. The full final project — written by Richard Fletcher, Antonis Kalogeropoulos, Felix M. Simon, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen — and downloadable data is available online as well.

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