Two in three Britons temporarily stopped consuming news during the Covid-19 pandemic to protect their mental health, new research has found.
As the UK marked the first anniversary of the first lockdown in March, researchers from Bournemouth University conducted in-depth interviews and a national survey with members of the public about their news consumption and habits during the pandemic.
They found that there was an initial increase in the frequency of and time spent on news consumption from pre-pandemic levels, which was the result of both the need to navigate the uncertain and continually evolving situation and the fact that people had more time on their hands due to the national lockdown.
However, as the pandemic continued, many interviewees – including some avid news users – reported deliberately switching off for periods of time from a few days to several months, for reasons related to mental health.
The survey found about two-thirds (66%) of those interviewed switched off the news to avoid negative feelings at least sometimes during the pandemic, with three in ten doing so often or very often.
“Participants who avoided Covid-19 news pointed to the negative bias and repetitive nature of Covid-19 news as two key contributors to their ill mental and emotional health,” said Dr An Nguyen, Associate Professor of Journalism at BU, who is leading the project.
“One common problem is the feeling of being overloaded and fatigued with the sheer volume and intensity of rather repetitive news about Covid-19.”
The research took place as the first stage of the CoJo Against Covid project, which is exploring whether constructive journalism (CoJo) – also known as solutions journalism – can help pandemic recovery in local and regional areas of the UK.
Constructive journalism aims to inform and empower people to deal with the problems they face through a balance of both reporting issues and their possible solutions.
The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and is being undertaken by BU in conjunction with about 50 local/regional news titles of Newsquest Media Company, with training and consultancy provided by the US-based Solutions Journalism Network, and the Association of British Science Writers.
Interviewees also reported wanting more constructive news, with suggestions such as reporting on planning for future pandemics, how the NHS was practically responding to the pandemic, and more coverage of the science behind the vaccine.
“Although accepting that pandemic news is mostly negative through necessity, many felt that journalists could have done more to report positive or constructive stories” said Dr Nguyen.
“In the next 12 months, we will roll out a UK-wide constructive news campaign and the findings from the research will be fed into the training and mentoring of journalists who participate in the campaign.”
“We aim to equip participating journalists with the mental tools and techniques to overcome their traditional negativity bias and to take onboard the strong public demand for more positive news during the pandemic recovery, especially constructive solution-focused news.”
Find out more at: https://cojouk.org/