Derek Thompson says the news we say we consume, and the news we actually consume, aren’t the same thing. That is, we say we want more hard news, but measuring what people really read on news sites reveals that soft news is more popular. Plus, people prefer to get news from sources that confirm their prejudices instead of challenge them. Excerpt:
The culprit isn’t Millennials, or Facebook, or analytics software like Chartbeat. The problem is our brains. The more attention-starved we feel, the more we thirst for stimuli that are familiar. We like ice cream when we’re sad, old songs when we’re tired, and easy listicles when we’re busy and ego-depleted. The Internet shorthand for this fact is “cat pictures.” Psychologists prefer the term fluency. Fluency isn’t how we think: It’s how we feel while we’re thinking. We prefer thoughts that come easily: Faces that are symmetrical, colors that are clear, and sentences with parallelisms. In this light, there are two problems with hard news: It’s hard and it’s new. (Parallelism!)
Fluency also explains one of the truisms of political news: That most liberals prefer to read and watch liberals (because it feels easy), while conservatives prefer to read and watch conservatives (because it feels easy). It’s a not-even-industry-secret that down-the-middle political reporting that doesn’t massage old biases is a hard sell for TV audiences.
The ugly truth is that people consume news like my kids consume food: they hate anything that might be remotely challenging or unfamiliar, and all things considered, they’re rather eat sweets than meat or vegetables.
People love to blame the “corporate media” for this kind of thing, but the problem is us. Fox and MSNBC aren’t telling people what to think; they’re responding to people wanting to be told that they way they already think is correct.
[H/T: Reader Kristen M.]