More Americans consuming news, political ideology a factor

September 13th, 2010 by Chris Hogg Leave a reply »

According to a new study, Americans are consuming more news; technology is complementing traditional media; breaking news and entertainment are leading news categories; and political bias in media is increasingly noted by news consumers.

According to a new Pew Research Center study, Americans are spending more time consuming the news today than much of the last decade. The study credits digital platforms as playing a larger role in news consumption.

When it comes to preference on where one consumes news, 34 percent of those surveyed said they went online for news, which is on-par with the number of people who follow news on the radio and slightly more than those who consume news via a daily newspaper.

In the world of mobile, 44 percent of Americans say they consumed news through a mobile digital source. Out of 3,006 adults surveyed, 9 percent said they consumed news via a Web- or mobile-based platform without going to a traditional source of news such as TV, radio or print.

The number of Americans who go to traditional media platforms such as TV, radio and print for news remains stable or is declining slightly over the last few years, Pew says.

“There has been no overall decline in the percentage saying they watched news on television, and even with the continued erosion of print newspaper and radio audiences, three-quarters of Americans got news yesterday from one or more of these three traditional platforms,” the study indicates.

Pew says technology is complementing traditional platforms, and more than one-third (36 percent) of Americans said they consumed news from both digital and traditional sources. That number is slightly lower than those who consumed news via traditional sources only (39 percent).

“The net impact of digital platforms supplementing traditional sources is that Americans are spending more time with the news than was the case a decade ago,” Pew reports. “As was the case in 2000, people now say they spend 57 minutes on average getting the news from TV, radio or newspapers on a given day. But today, they also spend an additional 13 minutes getting news online, increasing the total time spent with the news to 70 minutes. This is one of the highest totals on this measure since the mid-1990s and it does not take into account time spent getting news on cell phones or other digital devices.”

While digital platforms are leading to an increase in news consumption among those who follow the news, Pew says there is “…little indication they are expanding the proportion of Americans who get news on a given day.” In total, the survey showed 83 percent of Americans get news in one form or another each day.

Despite the fact younger generations are often more connected with technology, the study indicates there is no indication they use technology to get news at higher rates than older Americans. People in their 30s are the only group in which the majority (57 percent) get news on one or more digital platforms. Among older groups, 49 percent of people in their 40s and 44 percent of those between 50 and 64 got news through one or more digital platforms. Those numbers are comparable to the 18 to 29 demographic (48 percent).

Consuming traditional media

When it comes to the consumption of traditional media, about one quarter (26 percent) report reading a newspaper in printed format. That is down from 30 percent from two years ago and 38 percent in 2006. Among adults younger than 30 years old, that figure drops to only 8 percent.

Newspaper readership online continues to grow, up 13 percent from 2008.

For cable news, Pew says 39 percent of those surveyed indicated they get regular news from a cable channel. However, the study notes, “Proportions saying they regularly watch CNN, MSNBC and CNBC have slipped substantially from two years ago.”

When it comes to specific media outlets, Pew says Fox News is the only cable news outlet to maintain its audience size. That is attributed to the increasing number of Republicans who get news from the cable channel, Pew says.

Types of news and political ideology

According to the study, news audiences are drawn to different sources for different reasons and breaking news and entertainment are top categories for news. Furthermore, cable TV draws both liberal and conservative audiences who say they want opinion segments and interesting views.

The study notes political ideology is still a determining factor in Americans’ choices of news sources.

Overall, the number of Americans who say following the news is important has dropped from 52 percent in 2008 to 45 percent today.

“The decline is linked to partisanship and ideology,” Pew reports, “In 2008 67 percent of liberal Democrats said they enjoyed the news a lot, compared with just 45 percent today. By contrast, about as many conservative Republicans say they enjoy keeping up with the news today as did so two years ago (57 percent now, 56 percent then). This has resulted in a switch in news enjoyment. Today, conservative Republicans enjoy keeping up with the news more than any other ideological and partisan group; just two years ago it was the liberal Democrats who held that distinction.”

In total, 82 percent of respondents also say they see at least some bias in news coverage; by a 43 percent to 23 percent margin, more say it is a liberal than a conservative bias.

Furthermore, Republicans say they are more skeptical of major news sources than Democrats, with one exception: Fox News, which 41 percent of Republicans believe all or most of, where as Democrats believe 21 percent.

Emerging trends: The Pew study notes the following emerging trends when it comes to news consumption:

  • More men (50 percent) than women (39 percent) get news on digital platforms, such as the internet and mobile technology.
  • Men are more likely to get news by cell phone, email, RSS feeds or podcasts than are women. But men and women are equally likely to get news through Twitter or social networking sites.
  • Search engines are playing a substantially larger role in people’s news gathering habits, as 33 percent regularly use search engines to get news on topics of interest, up from 19 percent in 2008.
  • Despite increased news consumption, Pew says the public struggled with a four-question current events quiz (only 14 percent answered all four correctly). That said, 51 percent of regular Wall Street Journal readers and 42 percent of regular New York Times readers aced the quiz.

The survey was conducted June 8 to 28 on cellphones and landlines. It can be read online in full here.

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