Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Are Listeners Suffering From News Fatigue?

One of the year’s most remarkable statements about public radio comes from NPR in response to the recent decline in national audience.

Listeners are suffering from “news fatigue.”

It’s a remarkable claim because the idea of “news fatigue” is not supported by audience data. Audience is down for news stations, music stations, and mixed format stations. NPR reports comparable audience losses in its news and music programs.

NPR also reports tremendous growth in usage of its website and podcasts. While the numbers are not significant enough to hurt the national audience, the growth of these services runs counter to the notion of “news fatigue.”

"News fatigue” is a remarkable claim because NPR is suggesting that listeners are tiring of its core programming. That shouldn’t be happening given that one of NPR’s stated goals in replacing Bob Edwards on Morning Edition was to “freshen up the program.” All Things Considered made its reputation on delivering more than just news. A random check of Talk of the Nation topics from April, May, and June 2005 shows a diverse range of subject matter. If people are tired of listening, it’s not just because of the news. They do not like the stories, interviews and features that are supposed to complement the news.

“News fatigue” sounds like a handy answer to questions about public radio’s audience decline. But it is a “blame the listener” response. If we are to accept the notion that listeners are tiring of NPR News programs, we have to ask the question, “Whose fault is that, the listeners’ or the program producers’?”

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