Jul 12, 2022 - Economy

News engagement plummets as Americans tune out

Change in news engagement, H1 2021 to H1 2022
Data: NewsWhip, Apptopia, SimilarWeb, Nielsen; Note: Cable ratings only include Fox, MSNBC and CNN, from Monday to Sunday; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Engagement with news content has plunged during the first half of this year compared to the first half of 2021 and in some cases has fallen below pre-pandemic levels.

Why it matters: Americans have grown exhausted from the constant barrage of bad headlines that have replaced Trump-era crises, scandals and tweets.

The big picture: The level of news consumption in 2021 took a nosedive following historic highs in 2020. Despite a slew of major stories, readers have retrenched further in 2022.

  • The war in Ukraine, a series of deadly mass shootings, the Jan. 6 hearings and the Supreme Court's revocation of abortion rights haven't been able to capture the same level of attention spurred by the onset of the pandemic and the 2020 election.

Details: Engagement with news content across all platforms declined significantly in the first half of 2022.

  • Cable viewership across the three major cable news networks — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — is, on average, down 19% in prime time for the first half of this year compared to the first half of 2021. Those losses skew heavily toward CNN and MSNBC, which are down 47% and 33%, respectively. Fox's ratings are up 12% in that six-month span.
  • News app sessions for the top 12 mainstream most-trafficked publishers dropped 16% in the first half of 2022, according to data from Apptopia.
  • Website visits for the top 5 news websites in the U.S. by unique visits tracked by Similarweb dropped 18% in the first half of 2022.
  • Engagement on social media with news articles cratered over the past six months, dropping 50% since the first half of last year, despite more articles published, according to data from Newswhip. Engagement is measured by interactions with articles posted, which includes likes, comments and shares.

Yes, but: The steep drop-off in social media engagement with news was likely influenced by Facebook's de-emphasizing news in the News Feed as it seeks to move news consumption to its News Tab.

Zoom out: In some cases, engagement has fallen below pre-pandemic levels — a news diet "whiplash."

  • Among the top 12 news apps, sessions in the first half of 2022 are down 13% compared with the first half of 2019, per Apptopia.
  • Engagement with news articles on social media has cratered from the pre-pandemic rate, according to NewsWhip data, with interactions down 42% in the first half of 2022 compared to the first half of 2019.
  • The pre-pandemic comparison for cable news viewership also shows a drop, with numbers for the three major cable news networks in primetime down 15% in the first half of 2022 compared to the first half of 2019. Fox News is up slightly, but MSNBC and CNN are down 16% and 35%, respectively.

Be smart: Interest in the presidency has declined considerably under Biden compared to his predecessor, fueling some of the engagement declines.

  • Trump and Biden have generated the same level of Google searches in the time since Biden took office.
  • In the year and a half after Trump took office in 2017, he generated 7 times more search interest than former President Obama.

The big picture: Survey data shows Americans have grown weary amid what feels like a never-ending cycle of bad news.

  • The percentage of respondents to Reuters Institute's annual Digital News Report that said they sometimes or often actively avoid the news is 42% in 2022, up slightly from 38% in 2017.
  • Interest in news among those surveyed in the U.S. fell 12 percentage points from 55% last year to 43% in 2022.

What to watch: A country facing one calamity after another appears desperate for diversions.

Go deeper: Balancing your news diet

Go deeper