A Pew Research from earlier this year found that almost seven-in-ten (68%) Americans have news fatigue. “If you feel like there is too much news and you can’t keep up, you are not alone,” commented Pew Research Center analysts, Jeffrey Gottfried and Michael Barthel on the findings.
Information overload + FOMO = News Fatigue
The vast amount of information made available on the internet should ideally help us develop a better sense of what’s happening in the world. But the sheer volume, scale, and speed of new content creation and delivery keeps growing. Add to that a regular dose of anxiety due to the fear of missing out (FOMO), and you have a potent fatigue inducing mix.
Both journalists and their audiences struggle to cope with the overwhelming amount of information they have to deal with every day, on multiple screens and platforms. Managing this daily onslaught of information is an urgent challenge of the digital age.
Leslie-Jean Thornton, a Professor of Journalism at Arizona State University says, “As journalism professors, we have a need and desire to stay on top of things — so much so that it becomes somewhat addictive for some of us. It’s hard to step away, even for a few hours, but the constant wash of uncertainties is emotionally draining and physically harmful — teeth damaged from being clenched in anger or frustration, skyrocketing blood pressure, heart palpitations. I joke that we need trauma care, but I’m not really joking at all.”
Carl Bialik, Data Science Editor at Yelp, in his article for “Predictions for Journalism 2019” series on Neiman Lab writes, “The profusion of newsworthy events, the unsustainable growth in personal news consumption, and the decline of online advertising will drive more fatigued news consumers to pay more for less news. That demand will spur more news and tech organizations to build products to serve them.”
What really matters
We haven’t been asking anything of the news-producing group, namely journalists, who I would strongly argue, should be more involved in managing the insane flow of information and misinformation.
Dan Gillmor, Professor of Media Literacy, Arizona State University.
Bialik suggests that while catering to audiences that want ‘less news’, publishers should go beyond simply customizing their news according to their subscribers’ requirements; they should also include what their reporters and editors believe, really matters.
Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, writes in his blog, “Reading news online left me feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and anxious. I was afraid I could never be informed enough. But reading the print edition of a well-regarded daily newspaper satisfied my need to be informed. I knew that for the paper, editors had curated only the top stories, saving me from reading the incomplete, incremental, second-rate stuff often published online. And when I physically turned the last page of the newspaper. I felt as if I’d read enough to be informed for the day.”
Less is more: Online news curated by journalists and editors
Eyal has aptly presented the problem of news fatigue and perhaps indicated a solution. And that may include getting trained journalists and editors to curate online news, over being dependent on algorithms. It’s already being done for Apple News and Flipboard among others, but perhaps it needs to be adapted more aggressively by online content creators.
Michael Bhaskar, author of Curation: The Power of Selection in a World of Excess, summed it up well in the Guardian. He wrote, “In the words of one Silicon Valley investor, “software eats the world”. Well, software can’t eat human curation. Contrary to myth, traditional gatekeeping roles are here to stay.”