Monday, July 22, 2019

Stations Seek Ways To Combat 'News Fatigue'

No conclusive evidence shows that the syndrome known as news fatigue is affecting public radio listeners, but station executives and fundraisers strategized about possible antidotes last week during the Public Media Development and Marketing Conference.

According to, survey research and digital news metrics support the theory that American adults have grown weary of the relentless news cycle, said session moderator Abby Goldstein, incoming president of the Public Radio Program Directors Association. “We all know it’s happening” with public radio listeners, she said, but no hard data connects news fatigue to a decrease in public radio’s audience.

Digital media and cable news executives told Axios last month that audience interest in their Trump-related coverage had dropped. A report by the Pew Research Center in early 2018 found that 68% of American adults surveyed felt “worn out” by the amount of news.

Public radio’s own research has also turned up evidence of news fatigue. An August 2018 NPR survey of newsmagazine listeners found that half of respondents ages 25–64 said they sometimes “need a break from the news to de-stress.” Another 38% percent said that they “feel overloaded with news and information these days.”

“We all went up two years ago,” said Jennifer Strachan, chief content officer of KUOW in Seattle and a co-presenter of the news fatigue session. “We were rolling in money and feeling good.” Now, she said, KUOW is among the stations experiencing the downside of the “Trump bump” that boosted audience and donations for public radio in 2016 and 2017.

Strachan and other public radio leaders see audience declines reported by some stations as cyclical. “What happens to most stations is that it’s a return to normal,” Strachan said. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just down from a high.”

Strachan said she grew concerned in the fall when KUOW’s audience slide didn’t conform to the norm of cyclical declines and rebounds. The station’s weekday average–quarter-hour ratings were slow to recover from a sharp drop during the midterm elections, and the slump marked the first time KUOW’s listeners didn’t return after a downturn driven by the news cycle.

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