Research: News avoidance is on the rise for advertisers

By Dr. Merja Myllylahti

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Auckland, New Zealand


While global advertising revenue is estimated to grow this year, news avoidance is going to continue to be an issue for news publishers for the reasons explained below.

First the good news.

Group M estimates global advertising revenue will grow almost by 8% this year, and total advertising revenue will reach almost US$1 trillion by the end of the year.

Group M forecasts advertising on digital media channels will grow by 10%, on search by 5.3%, and television by 2.7%, but advertising in print media will drop by 3% from the previous year. However, it also warns that both “AI development and political regulation can upend the forecasts.”

The good news is that advertising in digital news is expected to grow, however even advertisers are nervous about the impact of so-called “bad news” or “negative news.”
The good news is that advertising in digital news is expected to grow, however even advertisers are nervous about the impact of so-called “bad news” or “negative news.”

While news about increasing advertising spend will be welcomed by many media outlets, other trends may dampen the optimism. One of these is news avoidance.

Researchers at the Reuters Institute find “continuous and selective news avoidance is on the rise.” In our survey about news avoidance in New Zealand, we found almost 75% of New Zealanders actively avoid the news to some extent (up 6% from the previous year).

More importantly, it is not just the public that shuns the news; advertisers have become wary of it as well. According to Digiday, “marketers are already averse to news content,” especially to hard news which is perceived as negative. Marketers are avoiding spending money on news sites that carry “bad news” or “negative news” related to politics, wars, climate change, crime, and so forth.

Marketers’ news avoidance has already had negative impacts on publishers’ bottom line. For example, New York Times Chief Executive Officer Meredith Kopit Levien says the publisher has “continued to feel the impact of some marketers avoiding certain hard news topics.”

To tackle the issue of news avoidance, PressGazette reports that New Zealand media company Stuff has changed the structure of some of its stories and introduced a “sentiment tracker.” Referring to our “Trust in news in New Zealand report,” Stuff says it wants to tackle news by understanding better how people react to the news and how different stories make them feel.

As a journalism scholar and lecturer, I find Stuff’s decision to abandon the traditional inverted pyramid structure for “some of the most contentious stories and politics stories and planning stories, things that would often sow division” interesting. Instead of following the typical hard news story structure for confronting stories, it offers readers a softer, more palatable approach to the stories.

I am intrigued by this experiment and keen to see longer-term outcomes. Especially when people’s attention spans are very short, their attention shifts quickly, and they want the key factual information fast. I am also curious to see if this approach helps with marketers. Will they return to the news if the approach to it is “softer?”

About Dr. Merja Myllylahti

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