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Trying to tune out the news these days? New study shows you're not alone

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

If you've been trying to tune out the news lately, you're far from alone. A growing number of people are intentionally limiting their news consumption. They're avoiding it for many reasons. Some say it makes them feel angry and depressed. Others want a break from the never-ending flow of information. Some are more interested in celebrity updates on social media than old-fashioned newspaper or radio or TV news coverage. Those are some of the findings of recent research by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. And with us is NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik to talk about what for us, you and me, David, is pretty discouraging news for reporters like us. But thanks for talking about it.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Pleasure.

PFEIFFER: Give us a sense of how widespread news avoidance is. What percentage of people are tuning out?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, this Reuters Institute survey is global. But let's look at the U.S. More than 1 in 10 Americans who responded to this reported tuning out altogether. And even more say they sometimes or often avoid news - say, 41% of women, 34% of men. And the proportion of, like, extreme interest has gone down in recent years. And the trends are similar across countries. And the trends are also similar that the interest in news tends to be lower among women and younger folks.

PFEIFFER: This does mirror what I hear from family and friends. They say news used to be a daily habit. They feel like they want to stay current. They also feel very discouraged when they read it. And they feel like maybe the world isn't worse than it ever used to be, but it sure feels that way when you read the news. So tell us more about what is driving people to stop reading or listening to the news.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the world can be a really tough place. And it can feel pretty relentless, the pace of news. If you think about those people who told the survey that they are avoiding the news, a third of them are basically saying they're steering clear of stories about the war of Ukraine. That's here in the U.S. Actually, interestingly, closer to the conflict in Eastern Europe, even more people said they avoided war in Ukraine. Back here at home in the U.S., over two-fifths of people say they avoid news about national politics - you know, it's such high stakes, no clear resolutions - and an equal number of passing up stories about social justice. And there's some interesting ideological breakdowns, too, on the right and left. Different stories turn them off where they feel there's an overemphasis on them.

PFEIFFER: And obviously this is not good for the news business. But what about the societal implications? What about that?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, there are real questions. You know, I think that there's a hardening of people in silos. So they go to news where it becomes comfort foods. You - obviously cable news on both the right and the left are an example of that, even if they don't play out identically. But people often take their conversations these days, as I've heard from folks and is reported in this study, to private channels like WhatsApp groups or Telegram or places like that where they essentially are having private conversations about news subjects with friends and not as much exposed to stuff on social media. You've seen engagement on Facebook and Google go down where they might have some cross-pollination of information there.

So, you know, I think that the real question is, how do we spur and encourage civic engagement and public discourse at a time when people are saying, you know, I don't want more of that? You see conservatives saying particular, I don't want to see things about social justice, things about climate change. You see liberals saying, don't talk to me about crime and criminal justice. It's just turning me off.

PFEIFFER: Is there any advice for people who want to stay informed but also want to protect their mental health? How do they find the balance?

FOLKENFLIK: You know, look. There is joy and wonder and discovery in the world to be found and explored and presented to readers and listeners and viewers. I think news organizations have to remember that that is part of a balanced diet, shall we say. Even as we can't turn away from war, you want to have dessert, but you can't do it all the time. And, you know, social media, you know, describes itself as snackable content. It's a lot like candy a lot of the time. And it's very easy, particularly on places like TikTok, to avoid news or just to just not even stumble across it. So you're not even consciously avoiding it. So the question is, are you getting a balanced diet? And the question is, are you going to the same places every time? And I encourage you to spread your aperture wider so that you're pulling from not just a balanced diet but a differentiated diet so it's not from the same place.

PFEIFFER: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENDRICK LAMAR SONG, "UNTITLED 05 09.21.2014.") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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