Multiple sources recently found that mainstream news outlets saw a massive decline in interest between 2020 and 2021.
A report by the Nielsen company, cited by the Associated Press, found that weekday prime-time viewership at CNN dropped 38% between 2020 and 2021, along with a 34% decline at Fox News, and 25% at MSNBC. The same report found that individual evening news shows also saw less steep, but still double-digit declines in viewership: NBC “Nightly News” saw a 14% decline in nightly viewership, while both ABC’s “World News Tonight” and the “CBS Evening News” saw 12% drops in viewership.
Another report by Comscore, also cited by AP, found that digital traffic to mainstream news websites also declined sharply. The report found that the number of unique visitors to the website of the Washington Post website dropped by an enormous 44% between November 2020 and 2021, while the New York Times saw a 34% decline in unique visitors.
Another report, conducted by media watchdog NewsWhip, found that social media engagement on mainstream news sites had dropped by nearly two thirds. NewsWhip recorded the social media traction of 14 million news articles in 2020 and found that the articles averaged 924 social media engagements per piece. The organization found an average engagement of just 321 interactions per piece this year, on 13.5 million tracked articles.
Media analysts told AP that the decline was inevitable. “It was entirely predictable,” news media analyst Ken Doctor said.
“You become, to some extent, a prisoner of the audience you built,” said University of Maryland journalism professor Tom Rosenstiel. He added that the MSM had built a primetime business model on sensationalist, combative political discourse during the Trump presidency, making it difficult to pivot away from that model after President Trump left office.
The experts noted that many of the mainstream media outlets have shifted to premium subscription-based streaming services to generate new revenue, including Fox’s “FOX Nation” and CNN’s prospective streaming service. They also noted that several news outlets are struggling with the resignations of top anchors, including the scandalous firing of CNN’s Chris Cuomo and the retirement of NBC’s Brian Williams.
News of the MSM’s decline in viewership comes as a report from the Media Research Center found that less than a quarter of MSM “news” coverage is actually news. The Daily Wire reported:
Hard news — defined as a statement of facts, or on-the-spot reporting — amounts to just 22.3% of all footage aired on cable news networks. That amounts to nine minutes, 15 seconds of hard news for every hour of broadcasting.
Each hour of broadcasting on cable news networks contains nearly twice as much commercial time than hard news.
Interviews with newsmakers account for another 16% of broadcast news time.
Commentary from a host, or panel discussions and “analysis” from a panel of talking heads, make up the vast majority of cable news time (60%).
The mix of objective vs. subjective reporting gets worse as the night went on. Just 9.3% of the programs that air between 7 p.m. and midnight consists of fact-based news reporting.
The Media Research Center monitored MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News Channel, then assessed how much of the content consisted of facts and how much was a matter of opinion.
By comparison, 72% of the Big Three networks’ evening news broadcasts is hard news. Even the fluffiest hour of their morning news programs like “Today,” “Good Morning America,” and “CBS This Morning” have a slightly higher percentage of hard news content than cable news programming.