Although interest and trust in news is declining in the US, the habit of getting news from alt-sources, like social media remains strong.
That could be a positive for independent creators.
Interest in the Biden Era
“Interest in news has fallen sharply in the United States following the election of President Biden,” says the 2021 Digital News Report*.
Take the majors in television news, like MSNBC, Fox and CNN. Their ratings started falling in February and are still on that slide.
In June 2021, those three networks’ ratings were down 36%, 42%, and 57%, respectively compared to June 2020, Deadline reported.
Trump Bump To Post-Trump Slump
Mainstream media had it easy when Donald Trump was in office.
Reporters could wake up, wait for him to do or say something that made a sensational headline, and then every news personality ran with that all day.
And it worked.
So days turned to years with America’s top journalists going all-in with their own antics. The knit-picking. The debating petty topics ad nauseum.
And let’s not forget their role in extending the reach of lies, distortions, and other sorts of foolishness that otherwise would have stopped short.
But now the media’s giving-tree, the 45th president, is gone, and that studio reporting isn’t working so well.
“Some commentators have long predicted that ‘Journalism’s Trump bump might be giving way to a slump.”
2021 Digital News Report
Boring, repetitive, and stale
Since Trump’s departure, many news outlets have tried to continue regurgitating topics and shoving them down our throats hour after hour, day after day.
But the subjects are boring.
The questions are repetitive and trough-fed.
The guests’ comments are predictable and create chorus lines.
Not to mention that too much of the commentary is reaction, opinion, and speculation from people without any direct connection to the subjects they’re talking about.
Then, there are the idiotic shenanigans like one show host having a colleague as a guest. The host will ask something like, So, what do you think is driving the president’s decision on this?
The colleague will answer, Although I haven’t spoken directly with anyone in the White House, I can tell you from previous experience/conversations/administrations…
It’s like catching a conversation between coworkers in the breakroom and not only deeming it news, but newsworthy enough for the largest platforms.
Did You See: Ghosting The News: The Death of Local Coverage
Mainstream cable news is mostly lateral chatter with little depth.
It leaves you feeling like any real stories are snickering out the back door while you sit in front of the screen consuming fat and empty calories disguised as news.
Too often you can skip the news for several days, come back, and you haven’t missed anything.
Nothing has been added except more commentary on stories you heard days ago.
Apparently, the world stalls while show hosts scrape up every like-minded commentator they can to come confirm the consensus at the network.
Concerns over Fading Interest
Declining interest in mainstream news is a huge challenge at a time when society is facing existential threats to health and prosperity. And the challenge for media companies is re-engaging interest without dumbing down or resorting to sensationalism, which can damage trust, the Digital News Report says.
Well, sorry report writers. I’m not sure where you’ve been, but media companies spent the entire Trump presidency focused on sensationalism and dumbed-down conversations, like Sharpie-Gate and the Dr. Seuss book debate.
Now, those media companies can’t supply the stories to provide a fix for viewers who are drawn to that type of content. And they’re falling short of the calling for people who want to be informed.
Mainstream media is largely a place to get the extensive slant on a few select topics each week. Sadly said, it’s mostly a propaganda mill.
Networks create talking points, build conversations around them, and linger in their creations.
Remember how news outlets tried to turn Liz Cheney’s removal as the third-ranking GOP into a developing story. But it wasn’t. The extensive coverage was nothing more than empty-calorie conversations.
Meanwhile, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was escalating. It was underreported and poorly covered.
Then, there was the announcement that NFL player Carl Nassib is gay. That isn’t the type of story that needs a journalist to carve out time for analysis and commentary.
But of course, they tried to make it big conversation and to go in deep. And of course, the effort failed.
It’s 2021. For the masses, no matter where they stand on the issue, being gay isn’t that taboo. It’s on par with other relationship news—if it’s mentioned, make it quick and move on.
The news is losing touch with the reality on the street.
In the U.S., we have the least inquisitive, non-sleuthing chair-warming reporters on the largest platforms.
We’ve heard all of their questions. We’ve heard all the answers. People are losing interest because a lot of news isn’t interesting.
As CNN’s Chris Cuomo said, his job consists of “trafficking in things I find ridiculous…“I don’t like what I do professionally… I don’t think it’s worth my time.”
News flash Cuomo–a growing number of people feel like mainstream news isn’t worthy of their time either.
“I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing.”
Sentiment Affecting Trust in News
In the US, trust in media is the lowest of the 46 countries assessed in the 2021 Digital News Report.
Only 29% of people trust the news.
The US is one of the few countries that didn’t see an increase in trust this year, the report noted.
How can you trust a media outlet where everybody sees only red or blue on every topic?
That type of hardline agreement and disagreement doesn’t happen anywhere except in a place infested by politics.
In case the big names in media haven’t noticed, our society doesn’t have a large appetite for assembly-line thinking.
“Despite more options to read and watch partisan news, the majority of our respondents (74%) say they still prefer news that reflects a range of views and lets them decide what to think,” the report said.
And the data suggest people aren’t just straying away from mainstream media because they’re losing interest in knowing what’s going on. Instead, many don’t feel like the news represents them or is fair.
Media outlets are trying to force-feed consumers content they don’t have an appetite for.
“News is largely incidental and the expectations of snappy, visual, and entertaining content do not always come naturally to newsrooms staffed by older journalists with a focus on traditional formats,” the report says.
Since traditional media sources aren’t hitting the spot, mainstream news brands and journalists are being “eclipsed by influencers and alternative sources in networks like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram,” it adds.
“One of the most striking findings in this year’s data is the radically different habits of under-25s (so-called GenZ)…These digital natives are less likely to visit a news website, or be committed to impartial news, and more likely to say they use social media as their main source of news…”
“Engaging these audiences is proving challenging for newsrooms that are mostly staffed by journalists who consume news in completely different ways.”
2021 Digital News Report
As an individual who consumes an extensive amount of news and who works in media, I believe the future can be bright for alt-media. And I believe that’s especially true if we learn from the missteps in mainstream media.
Indie media, freelance journalists, bloggers...
- Diversify your topics and angles.
- Be objective.
- Get creative with your formats.
- Show up on a variety of platforms.
- And keep those boots on the ground.
*The 2021 Digital News Report is provided by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and University of Oxford