When we tell friends and colleagues that we research people who consume basically no news at all, one of the most common questions they ask is some version of “Who are these people?”
To committed news consumers, especially those who love news, avoiding news consistently and habitually seems mysterious, possible only for the most radical or reclusive of characters. In fact, consistent news avoiders are in many ways (and perhaps, to some, surprisingly) quite normal, but they do tend to have some common traits. That is, some kinds of people are more likely than others to avoid news in a sustained way over time. Some of these patterns are quite similar around the world. In general, consistent news avoidance tends to be more common among young people, women, and lower socioeconomic classes. There are also some important political divides regarding who avoids news. In the United States especially, it is much more common among people on the right ideologically. In most other parts of the world, it is more common on the left. But a bigger and more persistent gap lies along what the political scientists Yanna Krupnikov and John Barry Ryan call “the other divide”: the divide between people who are deeply involved in politics and rarely, if ever, avoid news consistently and those who are largely indifferent toward politics and avoid news far more often. To be clear, we are not suggesting that all or even most young people, women, or people of lower socioeconomic classes avoid news consistently. That is verifiably not the case. But if you do meet someone who consumes practically no news at all, there is a good chance they will fall into one or more of these categories.
Most of our book grapples with why and how news avoidance happens, but we begin by introducing three consistent news avoiders in greater depth: Sofía, a twenty-year-old student in Spain; Andrea, a thirty-eight-year-old working mother in the United Kingdom; and William, a twenty-eight-year-old construction worker in the United States. We want readers to get a sense not only of who we are describing when we talk about news avoiders—to understand that there are complex individuals behind each quote—but also how they fit into broader patterns of who avoids news. These examples also illustrate how the larger argument in our book plays out in the lives of individuals—that who we are (identities), what we believe (ideologies), and the media pathways we use (infrastructures) have a profound influence over how we relate to news. These factors are difficult to pull apart, intersecting in different ways in the three cases we describe, but cumulatively they also mirror and reproduce deep-rooted social inequalities—a point we’ll return to.
News avoidance among digital natives
“[Watching news] is something I’ve never done because it doesn’t interest me … When it comes to politics, I don’t talk about it or understand it … I’d like to be up-to-date because people say, “Oh, it’s general culture,” but I don’t know if it’s how they present them or the topics they’re covering, but I’m like, “God, here they go talking again,” and really, if my mom is watching the TV, and they come on, I say turn it off or I get on my phone or I leave or I go do something else.” —Sofía (Spain)
Sofía lives with her mother in a working-class neighborhood in northern Madrid. At the time of our interview, she was twenty years old and taking a part-time course in international commerce, but her main problem, as she saw it, was that she was still struggling to decide what to do with her life. Her priorities in the meantime were spending time with friends and trying to manage her anxiety, which had led to a trip to the emergency room when she was studying for her college entrance exams. She described herself as addicted to her phone, which she used mostly for WhatsApp, Instagram, and YouTube. She explained that news only seemed to cover politics (which she was adamantly bored by), accidents, weather, and sports, whereas “I like topics like music, makeup, fashion. Topics that interest a ton of people, really; … [news outlets] don’t have those things.” In the end, she felt that the main reason to be informed was to be able to participate in social or professional conversations about current events, which she did not need to do at this point in her life. She explained, “I imagine that now since I’m studying, it’s not necessary, but I imagine that when the day comes that I have to work, depending on the job, obviously, it will be a good idea to be informed.”
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