How News Feels: Anticipated Anxiety as a Factor in News Avoidance and a Barrier to Political Engagement

Toff, Benjamin; Nielsen, Rasmus Kleis
Political Communication

This study uses an inductive, qualitative approach to examine the perspectives of lower- and middle-class people in the United Kingdom who regularly access little or no professionally-produced news. Findings suggest that people’s preexisting perspectives about what news is (anxiety-inducing) and offers for them (little practical value) play an important role in shaping attitudes toward news and subsequent behavior. These perspectives highlight the importance of emotional dimensions of news use beyond its presumed value as a source of information. While political communication scholarship has often treated news consumption as the cornerstone of good citizenship, we find avoiders hold uneven, weakly internalized norms about a perceived duty to stay informed, in part because they anticipate news will make them anxious without being relevant to their lives, resulting in limited engagement with news, and by extension, civic and political affairs. Promoting more informed societies requires grappling with these entrenched perspectives.