Where do Americans find news in today’s media landscape? Pew Research offers a very useful and up to date snapshot this week.
The short version? Our news habits are quite diverse, and at least partially driven by age differences.
First, that diversity. We extract news from social media, radio, newspapers, websites, and especially tv:
television is still the most popular platform for news consumption – even though its use has declined since 2016. News websites are the next most common source, followed by radio, and finally social media sites and print newspapers.
The popular reaction to this study has been to note social media beating out newspapers. For example,
social media has for the first time surpassed newspapers as a preferred source of news for American adults. However, social media is still far behind other traditional news sources, like TV and radio, for example.
One key detail: there are different types of tv news watching, and local is in the lead.
Among the three different types of TV news asked about, local TV is the most popular – 37% get news there often, compared with 30% who get cable TV news often and 25% who often watch national evening network news shows.
Another interesting point: news websites are more widely used (for news) than social media. Both of their usage patterns were stable for the past year.
Meanwhile, the online world is continuing to grow, almost taking the lead:
[W]hen looking at online news use combined – the percentage of Americans who get news often from either news websites or social media – the web has closed in on television as a source for news (43% of adults get news often from news websites or social media, compared with 49% for television).
Audience demographics are fascinating. Once more, age drives tv and digital usage, with an enormous generation gap by medium:
Age gaps that have long been notable have now widened substantially, with those 65 and older five times as likely as 18- to 29-year-olds to often get news from TV. A large majority of those 65 and older (81%) get news from television often, as do about two-thirds (65%) of those 50 to 64. Far fewer young Americans are turning to television news, however – only 16% of those 18 to 29 and 36% of those 30 to 49 get news often from television.
The age divide is nearly as large for social media, but in the other direction: Those 18 to 29 are about four times as likely to often get news there as those 65 and older.
Note one key finding about young new consumers, which might go against stereotypes:
Younger Americans are also unique in that they don’t rely on one platform in the way that the majority of their elders rely on TV. No more than half of those ages 18 to 29 and 30 to 49 get news often from any one news platform.
I have more questions. For one, I’d really like to get more stats about radio. Is that medium’s audience also older, like tv? Does it include podcasts, when radio programs publish content in that form? And the decline of tv and newspaper audiences: was that because of audiences switching away, or because of, well, older viewers and readers dying?
Kudos to Elisa Shearer for this vital research report.