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Understanding News Avoidance: Perceptions About Audiences

April 5, 2019 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm

Dr. Benjamin Toff (University of Minnesota) // April 5th, 2019 // 12:00pm-1:30pm // Belo Center for New Media (BMC) 5.102

The Center for Media Engagement Speaker Series promotes discussion about critical issues in journalism, social technology, and other communication media. We feature renowned scholars, experts, and professionals to share their research and perspectives on these topics.

One of the most consistent themes in communication research is the assumption that journalism’s main democratic function is to transmit information so people can make informed political decisions and hold power to account. But a considerable share of the public say they rarely or never follow the news, limiting participation in civic life. This presentation will provide an overview of research on this phenomenon of “news avoidance,” summarizing findings from an ongoing project involving in-depth interviews with news avoiders in the UK, Spain, and, in its next phase, the US as well. Much of the presentation will focus on a particular theory flowing from this research: an identity-based model of news use and avoidance. Whereas most scholarship presumes that people derive a combination of informational and “ritual” benefits from consuming news, we argue much is contingent upon how individuals view themselves and the communities they belong to. That is, news habits are particularly shaped by social identity and social relations: perceptions concerning the status of people who consume news and exposure to conversations about news. For news avoiders, high costs of consuming news in terms of time or emotional resources are not offset by perceived benefits because the value of political information is contingent on whether people feel they belong to groups where knowledge of such information is deemed valuable as social currency. So long as such dynamics shape whether people develop news consumption habits, efforts to increase news use among the broader public by focusing merely on the content of news may have a limited impact.

Dr. Ben Toff is an Assistant Professor at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota and a Research Associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University. He studies the changing media landscape and its impact on journalistic practice, elite messaging, and how citizens engage in political and civic life. He received his PhD in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016, and from 2005-2011, he was a researcher on the editorial page of the New York Times.


April 5, 2019
8:00 am - 5:00 pm