News Notifications: Necessary or Nuisance?

By Crystal Hellwig

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I, like many Americans, have spent the last couple of months bombarded with push notifications from news sources and doom scrolling through my Twitter feed. Constant updates regarding Coronavirus, elections, protests and natural disasters have been at the forefront of my mind.

Even I as a journalist am often fatigued by the 24-hour constant news cycle. So, it is no surprise that readers are as well. A 2019 Pew Research Study found that two-thirds of Americans feel worn out by the amount of news coverage available.

The study also found that news fatigue was more likely to occur in those least involved in politics. This poses the question of whether or not notifications are helping news organizations to get more people involved or are pushing them away?

This doesn’t mean that we as journalists should take a break or do less work. As the distrust for the news media is at an all-time high, these past few weeks have provided a reminder for how important a free press is in keeping the public informed.

But push notifications from news sites are not random, people that sign up for them are interested in the news and want to be informed. Clearly, there is a fine line between keeping the public informed and inundating them with alerts.

With the changing news cycle comes the question of quality over quantity? News updates are coming in faster than journalists have time to write the articles. Gone are the days of daily deadlines, instead now a constant upkeep of information. This adds a higher chance of reporters making mistakes.

As newsrooms all around the country are shrinking, even more so with recent layoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic, a smaller number of reporters are left with the task of verifying information, interviewing sources and updating the public both on their sites and social media. So, the decision of what deserves an alert is an important one.

“These decisions are made on the news desk, based on each case, for a given notification. Whoever is supervising the desk has the ultimate call, but every potential notification is deliberated on by multiple editors in every case,”  said Michael Owens of the New York Times in an interview with NYT’s Liz Spayd  discussing how the paper handles push notifications. “One of the big objections people have to alerts is that they’re not ‘breaking news.’ Even though we no longer advertise them as only for breaking news, I think that’s still an expectation people have — that people will only be interrupted for really big stuff. But we’ve discovered that both as a way of amplifying our work and as a way to engage people, and get them into the app, there’s actually a pretty big appetite for things that are not breaking news.”

News alerts and mobile devices have transformed into the only way many people now get their news. Research shows that 7 out of 10 Americans get their news from their phones. So, it makes sense to keep it as well-rounded as possible.

News organizations have the same responsibility now as to deciding what push notifications to send out comparable to the difficult decision editors make daily of what takes precedent on a newspaper’s front page.

News notifications are the new front page.


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