Released: August 17, 2008
Key News Audiences Now Blend Online and Traditional Sources
Audience Segments in a Changing News Environment
News Attitudes and Habits
Most Americans continue to enjoy keeping up with the news – and more than half (52%) say they enjoy it a lot. Despite the pace of modern life, a large majority of people (68%) say they do not feel they are too busy to keep up with the news. And for the most part, people do not feel overloaded with the amount of news and information available these days.
Consistent with the Pew Research Center’s past media consumption surveys, young people are far less likely than older Americans to say they get a great deal of enjoyment from following news. Enjoyment of the news has consistently been associated with higher levels of both news interest and news consumption.
Just a third of Americans younger than 25 say they enjoy keeping up with the news a lot, while nearly as many (26%) say they get little or no enjoyment from following the news. Among those 50 and older, fully 61% say they enjoy keeping up with the news a lot, while just 10% get little or no enjoyment from this.
In addition, many people in their mid-20s through their mid-30s say they are simply too busy to keep up with the news. Overall, just 30% are too busy to follow the news, while 68% say it is “pretty easy.” But about four-in-ten (41%) younger adults – those ages 25 to 34 – say they often are too busy to follow the news. For those 50 and older, finding time for the news is much less of problem: Compared with younger adults, roughly half as many (21%) say they are often too busy to keep up with the news.
A majority of Americans (60%) say they do not feel overloaded by the amount of news available these days, while 38% say they do feel overloaded. In this case, nearly identical proportions of the youngest people (those younger than 25) and those 50 and older say they feel overloaded (40% and 41%, respectively). Women are somewhat more likely than men to say they feel overloaded by the amount of news available these days (42% vs. 34%).
While some Americans feel overburdened by the amount of news available, many more say they like having news on in the background while they are doing other things. Overall, 55% say they like having news on in the background while 43% do not. As might be expected, those who like having news on in the background are more likely to get news on a typical day – whether from television, radio, newspapers or the internet – than those who do not.
Attitudes and News Consumption
No single attitude is more closely associated with high attention to “hard” news – local, national, international and business news – than deriving a lot of enjoyment from keeping up with the news.
The vast majority of the hard news audience (73%) – those who regularly follow all four news topics – say they enjoy keeping up with the news a lot; that compares with barely half (51%) of those with moderate interest in hard news and just 15% of those who express little or no interest in these subjects.
Similarly, a large proportion of the hard news audience (82%) says it is pretty easy to find time to get the news. That is nearly double the proportion among those with low attention in local, national, international and business news (42%). Those highly attentive to hard news also are more likely to say they like having news on in the background compared with those who are less interested in hard news. Comparable majorities of those with high, moderate and low interest in hard news say they do not feel overloaded by the amount of news available.
Most Want Broad Overview
When Americans get the news, they generally are interested in getting an overview of the top news of the day. Fully 62% say it is more important to them to get an overview of the news than to get news about topics of particular interest to them (27%).
The preference for an overview of the news vs. specific topics is generally consistent across major demographic groups. Yet as with other attitudes about the news, young people are an exception. Those who are 18 to 24 are evenly divided about which is more important: 48% say they prefer to get an overview of the news, while 44% say they like getting news about topics of particular interest to them.
In terms of the news sources they use, a narrow majority of Americans (51%) say they mostly rely on a few sources while nearly as many (46%) say they get news from many sources. There are no major demographic differences in views about whether people prefer a few news sources or multiple sources.
‘News Grazers’ Now a Majority
Somewhat more Americans now say they are the kind of person who checks in on the news from time to time rather than gets the news at regular times (51% vs. 45%). That represents the first time since the question was asked six years ago that a majority said they get the news from time to time.
An over-whelming proportion of very young people are news grazers, checking in on the news from time to time. Nearly eight-in-ten of those younger than 25 (78%) say they get the news from time to time. Even among people only somewhat older – those ages 25 to 34 – a much smaller majority (56%) says they check on the news rather than getting it at regular times. Among those 50 and older, most say they get the news at regular times.
News Grazers Watch Less, Go Online More
Americans who gather news from time to time watch and read less news overall than do those who get news at regular times. News grazers spend on average 56 minutes per day consuming news. By contrast, regular-time news consumers on average spend 79 minutes per day consuming news.
News grazers are less inclined than regular-time news consumers to watch most types of TV news. Just 41% of grazers regularly watch local television news, compared with 67% of regular-time news consumers. And the grazers are about half as likely as regular-time consumers to regularly watch network evening news broadcasts, Sunday talk shows or listen to NPR. Cable news, which is available at any time of the day, is more attractive to grazers than most other television news. But the regular-time viewers still outpace the grazers as regular consumers of this source of news (44% vs. 35%).
Compared with news grazers, people who get news at regular times also are more likely to read traditional print publications – daily newspapers and weekly community papers. But news grazers are far more likely to regularly go online for news. About six-in-ten (59%) of those who get news from time to time go online for news at least three days a week; that compares with 39% of those who get news at regular times.
Smaller News Audiences Stay Loyal
Since the early 1990s, the regular audience for nightly network news has fallen by half while the proportion who regularly read a newspaper has declined by a quarter. Yet among those who still watch the nightly broadcasts and read newspapers, majorities say they would miss these sources if they were no longer available
Nearly seven-in-ten regular network news viewers (69%) say they would miss the broadcasts a lot if they were no longer available; that is greater than the percentage of regular network viewers who said this six years ago (62% in 2002).
Somewhat fewer regular newspaper readers (59%) say they would miss the newspaper a lot if it were no longer available; this percentage is largely unchanged from 2002 (57%). Notably, when asked if they would miss reading a newspaper “in print” an identical percentage (58%) say they would miss reading the paper a lot.
A similar percentage of those who get news online (62%) say they would miss web news a lot if it were no longer available.
Older People More Attached to Traditional Sources
Older people are much more likely than younger people to read a daily newspaper. Older newspaper readers also are more likely than younger ones to say they would miss the paper a lot if it were no longer available.
Among those 50 and older who regularly read a newspaper, two-thirds (67%) say they would miss the newspaper a lot if it were no longer available. This compares with only 51% of those younger than 50. Similarly, older people are more likely to say they would miss the network evening news. Fully 76% of regular network news viewers 50 and older say they’d miss their evening news program a lot if it was no longer available; that compares with 61% of those younger than 50.
Just the opposite is true of regular online users. Younger online users are more likely than their older counterparts to say they would miss online news sources if they were no longer available. Roughly two-thirds (65%) of regular online news consumers under age 50, compared with 55% of those 50 and older, say they would miss online news sources a lot.
Are All News Outlets the Same?
Many news consumers feel that the news media are largely undifferentiated: More than four-in-ten (43%) say that all the news media are pretty much the same. Slightly more than half (54%) disagree, saying that there are a few news sources that they trust more than others. There has been little change in these views since 2004.
The more educated are more likely to trust some sources more than others. Nearly seven-in-ten college graduates (69%) say they trust a few news sources more than others, compared with 55% of those with some college and only 44% of those with no more than a high school education.
Large majorities of liberal Democrats (71%) and conservative Republicans (65%) say they trust some news sources more than others. That compares with only about half of independents (52%), conservative and moderate Democrats (50%), and moderate and liberal Republicans (49%).
About two-thirds of those who express a strong interest in hard news say they trust a few news sources more than others. By comparison, 53% of those with moderate interest in hard news, and just 28% of those with low interest, say they trust a few sources more than others.
Comparable majorities in the regular audiences for CNN and the Fox News Channel and the three nightly network broadcasts say they trust a few news sources more than others. But the NPR audience is a bit different. Nearly three-quarters of the NPR audience (74%) trusts some media more than others while only about a quarter (24%) say the news media are pretty much all the same.
By wide margins, the regular audiences for individual cable news and radio programs reject the idea that the news media are pretty much all the same. This is particularly the case for regular viewers of the Daily Show and Hannity & Colmes; just 14% of the regular viewers of each of these programs say the news media are pretty much all the same.
News from Your Point of View?
Most Americans say they prefer to get political news with no point of view rather than news that shares their political news. Two-thirds (66%) wants news with no political point of view, which is consistent with measures from recent news consumption surveys.
Majorities in all major demographic and political groups say they prefer news with no political point of view. However, less educated people are more likely than those with more education to say they prefer news from their point of view. A third of conservative Republicans, and about the same proportion of liberal Democrats (31%), say they prefer news with their point of view. That compares with 27% of conservative and moderate Democrats, 21% of moderate and liberal Republicans and just 15% of political independents.