A string of major stories dominated headlines and drove news interest in the United States over the last year, including the war in Ukraine, the landmark Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion, and the 2022 midterm elections. Meanwhile, US news organisations have faced another wave of layoffs and downsizing.
Tentative evidence suggests that both news interest and news trust are rebounding in the US after significant drops last year. Our 2023 US survey finds that 73% of respondents report accessing news at least once per day, up 6 percentage points from the previous year, while interest in news has recovered slightly, and trust rebounded by 6pp after last year’s lows. Although news engagement remains well below peaks at the height of the COVID pandemic and the 2020 election, recent increases hint at a recovery from the wave of ‘tuning out’ that followed the Trump presidency.
Despite this, the news industry continues to reel from economic woes following the pandemic, with multiple rounds of large-scale layoffs. In December 2022, Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the country, announced that it would cut 6% of its company’s US media division, around 200 jobs, including employees at USA Today, The Indianapolis Star, and The Detroit Free Press.
This move followed the elimination of 400 jobs at Gannett publications the previous August. It also reflects continued challenges facing the local-news sector. According to the State of Local News 2022 report from Northwestern University, more than 360 newspapers closed in the US between late 2019 and May 2022, and all but 24 were weekly newspapers serving small to mid-size communities. Efforts to preserve local news are multiplying, however. These include non-profit and diversified commercial business models, start-up labs, local and national funding opportunities, and moves back to local ownership.
The national picture is similarly grim. CNN has announced layoffs affecting hundreds of employees, as well as the end of live programming on HLN, CNN’s sister channel. National Public Radio cut 10% of its staff and discontinued production on four popular podcasts in an effort to address a $30m budget deficit. Vox Media, the umbrella company for brands such as Vox.com, SB Nation, New York Magazine, Vulture, and NowThis, laid off 7% of its workforce in December 2022, a total of about 130 jobs. And then, in April 2023, BuzzFeed closed its entire news division, citing lack of support from big platforms, marking the end of an era for a model of digital-born journalism that had once attracted significant investor backing for its promises to upend the industry.
In April 2023 Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News agreed to pay $787.5m in an out-of-court settlement of a defamation lawsuit from the voting machine company, Dominion. The company argued that its business had been harmed by the network spreading false claims that the 2020 presidential vote had been rigged against Donald Trump. A few days later Fox dispensed with the services of star prime-time host Tucker Carlson, while over at CNN anchor Don Lemon was fired after a string of controversies over on-air comments and treatment of female colleagues. Amid falling ratings, cable TV news is looking to reposition itself after the controversy-fuelled highs of the Trump years.
Meanwhile, unionisation efforts remain a notable trend in US newsrooms, from local newspapers to national magazines to TV stations to digital natives. Pew Research reported in August 2022 that one in six US journalists is a union member and more suggested they would join a union if it were available.1 Interest and membership in unions is more prevalent among younger journalists (ages 18–29) as well as among women and journalists of colour.
The news industry has also seen many bright spots. Poynter reported that, although pageviews and unique visitors for local newspaper sites fell 20% in 2022, subscriptions rose among small, medium, and large newspapers. Data from the Medill Subscriber Engagement Index showed increases in subscriptions from September 2021 to August 2022 for eight large metropolitan daily newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Boston Globe, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The New York Times also continues to see digital growth, adding more than 1 million digital-only subscribers in 2022, bringing its total number to 9.6 million. Subscription gains are not universal, however, as some publishers, including the Washington Post, have seen stagnation and even declines.
Big tech companies have faced their own woes this year; Facebook has laid off more than a quarter of its workforce as its pivot to the metaverse falters, while TikTok has been blocked by public institutions across the country as many lawmakers call for it to be banned outright as a national security risk. Meanwhile, journalists and researchers continue to debate the challenges and opportunities of AI for journalism, with BuzzFeed’s lifestyle verticals using it to create travel guides and quizzes – and Bloomberg launching its own GPT tool. Tech news outlet CNET published corrections on a series of AI-generated stories after Futurism.com pointed out errors.
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Americans are watching less television news each year and printed media have been on the slide for decades, but interest in online and social media is hotting up again as the next presidential election cycle approaches. Facebook remains the top social network for news, while Twitter remains a major force despite changes forced through by Elon Musk.
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Trust in news (32%) has recovered somewhat from last year’s lows – registering a 6pp jump. If these encouraging figures reflect a slight cooling of partisan rancour in an electoral off-year, longer term declines in news trust are likely to be reasserted during the looming presidential race. The US remains well in the bottom half of countries surveyed in terms of news trust.