Americans admit to being exhausted by the news, which can seem relentlessly negative and depressing.
According to a new Pew Research survey, Republicans admit to more fatigue than Democrats. News fatigue is more common among people who follow the news less frequently and have a lower regard for the news media. White Americans report noticeably greater news fatigue than African-Americans or Latinos.
“If you feel like there is too much news and you can’t keep up, you are not alone,” writes Jeffrey Gottfried and Michael Barthel of the Pew Research Center. “Almost seven-in-10 Americans (68%) feel worn out by the amount of news there is these days, compared with only three-in-10 who say they like the amount of news they get.”
The news tends to exhaust Republicans more (77%) than Democrats (61%), which probably has something to do with the content of the news. The Pew researchers note, “This elevated fatigue among Republicans tracks with them having less enthusiasm than Democrats for the 2018 elections.”
There are noteworthy demographic differences on the news fatigue curve. Women express more exhaustion than men. College graduates feel slightly more worn out than high school graduates. Older adults are less fatigued than younger adults.
In light of all this exhaustion, Google has stepped in with relief from too much “negative news” by offering an assist from Google Assistant. Just say, “Hey Google, tell me something good.” Google Assistant then provides a summary of stories about “people who are solving problems for our communities and our world.” Many of the stories are plucked from the Solutions Journalism Network, which isn’t a regular contributor to mainstream news feeds.
However, the BBC says even though people may be fatigued by negative news, they are drawn to it like moths to bright light. “It isn’t just schadenfreude, we’ve evolved to react quickly to potential threats. Bad news could be a signal that we need to change what we’re doing to avoid danger.” We watch negative news for the same reasons we are drawn to the Walking Dead.
The New York Times published an article last year that suggested the more news people consume makes them yearn for “emotionality” in coverage, which often translates into negative stories. “Negativity is emphasized to keep [viewers] engaged,” according to a British psychology professor, Graham C.L. Davey. Negative news is apparently as addictive as nicotine.
One solution to “living in a Superconducting Super Collider of news with information bombarding us at a head-spinning velocity” is simply to turn to “slow news,” according to Dan Gillmor, a professor of media literacy at Arizona State University. Slow news could be as simple as plodding along without checking social media and news websites every few minutes.
News fatigue runs in cycles, often on the same wavelength as elections. As election day approaches and there is exponentially more political news, news watchers grow weary. Despite being tired, like campers who pulled an all-nighter around a campfire, they still have to watch the news so they don’t miss the latest sliver of negative news.
We do a lot of things when we are bone-tired. Watching the news, it turns out, is one of them.
Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.