Outlets hurt by dwindling public interest in news in 2021

<p><p>NEW YORK – 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.</p></p><p><p>Various metrics illustrate the dwindling popularity of news content.</p></p><p><p>Cable news networks were the main form of evening entertainment for millions of Americans last year.</p></p><p><p>In 2021, weekday prime-time viewership dropped 38% at CNN, 34% at Fox News Channel and 25% at MSNBC, according to the Nielsen company.</p></p><p><p>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.</p></p><p><p>The Trump era saw explosive subscriber growth for some digital news sites like The New York Times and Washington Post.</p></p><p><p>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.</p></p><p><p>While a Dec. 23 headline on the Los Angeles Times front page – “How Much More Can We Take?” – referred to COVID-19, it could easily be applied to the news appetite in general.</p></p><p><p>For the most part, smart news executives knew the peaks of 2020 were not sustainable.</p></p><p><p>“It was entirely predictable,” said news media analyst Ken Doctor.</p></p><p><p>Perhaps that was most obvious at the cable news networks.</p></p><p><p>They 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.</p></p><p><p>“You become, to some extent, a prisoner of the audience you built,” Rosenstiel said.</p></p><p><p>Those networks remain focused on politics even as viewership interest wanes.</p></p><p><p>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.</p></p><p><p>The 13.5 million articles NewsWhip has traced in 2021 had an average of 321 engagements.</p></p><p><p>To a certain extent, these outlets have turned elsewhere for revenue opportunities, Doctor said.</p></p><p><p>CNN is preparing to debut a new streaming service early next year and <a href=”https://apnews.com/article/chris-wallace-leaves-fox-news-joins-cnn-3f3d5bc1bc513bc376d6d6713fadd793″>recently poached</a> Fox News’ Chris Wallace to join that effort.</p></p><p><p>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.</p></p><p><p>Arguably Fox’s most <a href=”https://apnews.com/article/arts-and-entertainment-media-tucker-carlson-jonah-goldberg-153c988b675cc5bfdce8e30912886f8d”>attention-getting programming</a> of the year was a documentary on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot by Tucker Carlson that asserted it was an effort to silence Trump supporters.</p></p><p><p>Both CNN and MSNBC face key programming decisions in the new year.<span class=”print_trim”>CNN must replace its most popular host, Chris Cuomo, who <a href=”https://apnews.com/article/new-york-andrew-cuomo-chris-cuomo-75ead598311cbb60f188ffa46d09b7ce”>was fired</a> after it was revealed how he helped his brother through a political scandal.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>MSNBC must <a href=”https://apnews.com/article/business-brian-williams-arts-and-entertainment-67da38e68d168e89b9d7ee3a0202c000″>replace Brian Williams</a> in its lineup and will most likely see its most popular personality, Rachel Maddow, cut back on her hours.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>Although usage of the Times’ digital site is down, the company <a href=”https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/04/business/media/nyt-new-york-times-earnings-q2-2021.html”>passed 8 million subscriptions</a> and is on pace to grow further.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>Doctor said the Times has done an effective job of diversifying beyond politics, most notably with its Wirecutter service of consumer recommendations.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>Leaders at the Post have <a href=”https://www.wsj.com/articles/washington-post-grasps-for-new-direction-as-trump-era-boom-fades-11639695007″>wrestled with how to deal</a> their readers’ dependence on political fare, according to the Wall Street Journal.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>The company is looking internationally for growth opportunities, Doctor said, a focus that plays to the strength of its <a href=”https://apnews.com/article/ks-state-wire-sally-buzbee-donald-trump-middle-east-health-1ee82d121623381c1afad6306d892744″>new executive editor</a>, Sally Buzbee.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>“People to some degree have focused inward,” Rosenstiel said. “They’re getting the news that they need but it’s not as much news as it was a year ago.”</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>Particularly for the national news outlets, Rosenstiel said 2021 may best be remembered as a transitional year away from the frenzied news pace of the Trump years.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>He sees the effect of those years in the intensity with which the media has covered every twist and turn of legislative negotiations over President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>Like most work in Congress, it’s slow-moving and filled with incremental developments.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>He’s concerned that concentration on this story has distracted from other priorities, including focusing on local efforts to restrict voting rights, ultimately a more important story.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>Some 100 to 120 local newspapers shut down in 2021, a number that is on pace with the declines of the past two decades, said Penelope Muse Abernathy, a professor at Northwestern University.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>Yet local news outlets are also expected to have their smallest number of job cuts in 14 years, according to the research firm Challenger Gray &amp; Christmas. That comes after 2020 saw the biggest number of lost newsroom jobs since 2008.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>“What we’re seeing this year is kind of a watershed moment in the pivot from a print business model that is diminishing to a digital model that is beginning to take shape,” said Timothy Franklin, Abernathy’s colleague at Northwestern.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>He cited the Boston Globe and Minneapolis Star-Tribune as two newspapers that are succeeding in the transition.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>Local news outlets saw a boost in digital subscriptions as people sought information in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.</span></p></p><p><p><span class=”print_trim”>While interest in pandemic news has waned, Abernathy said she believes the outlets have done well in keeping many of those new subscribers.</span></p></p>