Our Interest in the News Wasn't What It Was in 2020

The AP rounds up some numbers that show the decline
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 27, 2021 10:15 AM CST
Our Interest in the News Dwindled in 2021
Exterior images, from left, appear of CNN headquarters on Aug. 26, 2014, in Atlanta, the New York Times building on June 22, 2019, in New York.   (AP Photo)

The presidential election, pandemic, and racial reckoning were stories that drove intense interest and engagement to news outlets in 2020. To a large degree, 2021 represented the inevitable hangover. The AP reports various metrics illustrate the dwindling popularity of news content. The major takeaways:

  • Cable news networks: In 2021, weekday prime-time viewership dropped 38% at CNN, 34% at Fox News Channel, and 25% at MSNBC, according to the Nielsen company. The decline was less steep but still significant at broadcast television evening newscasts: 12% at ABC's World News Tonight and the CBS Evening News; 14% at NBC's Nightly News, Nielsen said.
  • News sites. The Trump era saw explosive subscriber growth for some digital news sites like the New York Times and Washington Post. Yet readers aren't spending as much time there; Comscore said the number of unique visitors to the Post's site was down 44% in November compared to November 2020, and down 34% at the Times.

  • What's changed. The cable news networks built a prime-time model almost entirely focused on political combat during the Trump years, which made it difficult for them to pivot to something different, said Tom Rosenstiel, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland. "You become, to some extent, a prisoner of the audience you built," Rosenstiel said.
  • The social numbers: Those networks remain focused on politics even as viewership interest wanes. The media monitoring company NewsWhip looked at 14 million political articles online last year and found they had an average of 924 engagements, or social media interactions. The 13.5 million articles NewsWhip has traced in 2021 had an average of 321 engagements.
  • Some pivots: To a certain extent, these outlets have turned elsewhere for revenue opportunities, said news media analyst Ken Doctor. CNN is preparing to debut a new streaming service early next year, and recently poached Fox News' Chris Wallace to join that effort. Fox News, while doubling down on conservative commentary following perceived threats from outlets like Newsmax and OANN, directed fans to its Fox Nation streaming service. Doctor said the Times has done an effective job of diversifying beyond politics, most notably with its Wirecutter service of consumer recommendations.
  • Big in 2022: Both CNN and MSNBC face key programming decisions in the new year. CNN must replace its most popular host, Chris Cuomo, who was fired after it was revealed how he helped his brother through a political scandal. MSNBC must replace Brian Williams in its lineup and will most likely see its most popular personality, Rachel Maddow, cut back on her hours.
(Read more media stories.)

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