News fatigue

A new study finds that multi-tasking young adults really do care about quality news, but they have trouble finding it in today’s crowded, hyperactive media environment. Editor and Publisher reports on research commissioned by the AP that “analyzed the news consumption patterns of an ethnically diverse group of men and women between the ages of 18 and 34 in six cities in the United States, Britain and India.” The conclusion? They suffer from digital “news fatigue.”

Participants yearned for quality and in-depth reporting but had difficulty immediately accessing such content because they were bombarded by facts and updates in headlines and snippets of news. The study also found that participants were unable to give full attention to the news because they were almost always simultaneously engaged in other activities, such as reading e-mail. That represents a shift from previous consumption models in which people sat down to watch the evening news or read the morning paper.

The study already has led some news outlets to change the way they process news. The AP has a new “1-2-3 filing” system for breaking news that starts with a news alert headline. Next comes a short present-tense story that is Web and broadcast-ready. The third step is to add details and format stories for different platforms.

The report says the Telegraph in London has taken a similar approach and seen Web traffic jump. “The Telegraph has adopted the mind-set of a broadcast-news operation to quickly build from headlines to short stories to complete multimedia packages online to boost readership.”

Sounds like good advice. How many times have you clicked on an “update” only to get information you already knew? Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to dial back on the alerts that don’t add anything and put more effort into providing the context and depth people say they’re looking for.