Bergen Media Use Research Group
News use

News in crisis situations

New paper by Hallvard Moe, Torgeir Uberg Nærland and Brita Ytre-Arne discusses people’s news experiences before, during and after societal crisis situations.

Image of pandemic on screen
Patrick Assalé, Unsplash.com

Main content

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a news picture filled with war, political and economic unrest, rising electricity and food prices, and climate-related disasters such as floods and earthquakes. New research from the media usage group shows that the way we read news about such crises can be said to follow a fairly predictable pattern in three phases; Ritual checking, shocked immersion and regained stability.

Research into news use around, among other things, Donald Trump's election victory in 2016 and the spread of COVID-19 shows that use often follows a pattern in stages. Ritual checking refers to the way most of us normally consume news: We check various news providers, scan websites and form a general picture of what is happening in the world. Phase two - shocked immersion - describes what happens when a crisis situation occurs. In this phase, you tend to spend a lot of time following news about this specific crisis, and typically experience it as important, frightening and/or all-consuming. In the last phase, we return to normality and stability.

The researchers underline the significance of emotional distancing to regain stability, and identify crises lacking start- and endpoints as particularly difficult to navigate. These insights should instigate further debate about our understanding of news audiences in a tumultuous world, particularly relevant to scholarship on news use and avoidance.