News and journalism offer something to hold on to in uncertain times. Initially, television news, newspapers and news sites broke record after record after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the early 2020s. But are such new news habits permanent? Although for most people the peak in news consumption was temporary, there are groups for whom journalism has become part of their system. This is the conclusion of Professor Marcel Broersma and researcher Joëlle Swart of the Centre for Media and Journalism Studies in a study on news habits in corona times, published on 7 June.
Last year, Broersma and Swart asked 1293 Dutch people in an online survey about their changes in news and media use since the corona crisis outbreak started, more specifically during the first wave of contamination. Some of these respondents were then interviewed in the summer of 2020 to chart the stability of, the motivations for and the context of these new habits. "We see that many people, who started consuming a lot of news, are now consuming a lot less," says Broersma. "But with others, we see a lasting effect: the corona crisis has stirred up their interest and attention for news."
The study shows that almost everyone started consuming more news in the first phase of the pandemic. But once the initial shock had passed, the researchers saw five different reactions. News avoiders distanced themselves almost immediately from coronavirus related news, mostly out of dissatisfaction with the quality of reporting on the pandemic. A similar group - the regret seekers - initially followed the news more often, but reduced this frequency within a few weeks out of coronavirus news fatigue and a feeling of helplessness. Stable news users, even during a disruptive event like a pandemic, showed no change in news use. This group had a relatively low interest in news and only followed information that was directly relevant to them, such as reports of new government measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
A fourth group of frequent news users started to consume more news because of the pandemic via the platforms and titles they already used prior to the coronavirus crisis. They checked news more frequently than before as support in uncertain times, often resulting in more stress and anxiety. Finally, news junkies responded to the pandemic by consuming news not only more frequently, but also more actively, for instance by installing news apps, visiting additional news sites or actively searching for additional information.
Changed patterns of news consumption often prove to be temporary, with the exception of frequent news users and news junkies. They appear to have started using more news on a permanent basis. The stress and fear that the pandemic causes, increases their news consumption, whereas the same emotions have the opposite effect on news avoiders and regret seekers. They also feel emotionally involved with news and attach great importance to the democratic value of journalism, whereas for other groups, dissatisfaction with news media as a negative affective signal actually incites them to avoid news.
Whether the coronavirus crisis actually leads to stable, long-term habits depends on the impact of the pandemic and the antimeasurevirus measures on the daily life of news users. The more far-reaching the effects of the crisis on work, family and everyday routines, the more long-term changes in news consumption will be expected. The social environment of users also plays a role: respondents who exchanged a lot of information about the coronavirus crisis with the people around them followed the news more closely.
Prof. Dr. Marcel Broersma - m.j.broersma rug.nl
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