September 12, 2010

Americans Spending More Time Following the News

Section 1: Watching, Reading and Listening to the News

When asked if they had a chance to read a daily newspaper yesterday, just 31% of Americans say they read a newspaper, the lowest percentage in two decades of Pew Research Center polling. When online news consumers are later probed separately if they happened to read anything on a newspaper website, the total rises to 37%, but even this more inclusive measure of newspaper readership is on a downward trajectory. Four years ago 43% reported some kind of newspaper reading, in print or online. These percentages still may miss some people who access newspaper content indirectly through secondary online sources such as news aggregators or search engines.

Daily audiences for TV and radio, by contrast, are holding steady. Television remains the most prevalent source of news; 58% of Americans say they watched the news or a news program on television yesterday, a percentage that has changed little over the past decade. About a third (34%) say they listened to news on the radio yesterday, which is little changed from recent years, but far lower than during the 1990s.

The proportion turning to the internet for news continues to grow – 34% say they got news online yesterday in the latest survey, up from 29% in 2008 and 23% in 2006. And the overall reach of digital technologies is even broader – 44% say they got news yesterday from the internet, cell phones, social networks or podcasts.

The vast majority of Americans (83%) get news in one form or another as part of their daily life. But even with the availability of news over a wide range of new technologies, 17% of Americans say they got no news yesterday, a figure that is virtually unchanged from previous years. In the 2008 survey, 19% said they got no news yesterday – and that survey did not ask about getting news on a given day via cell phones or other digital technologies. Currently, 27% of adults under age 30 get no news on any given day; among the very youngest, ages 18 to 24, the number going newsless yesterday is 31%.

The Array of Digital News Platforms

The share of Americans getting news on mobile devices or through online social networks on any given day is substantial, though far more people continue to get news from traditional news sources. Roughly one-in-ten Americans (9%) got news over a cell phone or smartphone yesterday, and the same percentage says they got news through a social networking site such as Facebook or Twitter.

A similar number (10%) says they got news through RSS feeds or a customizable webpage like My Yahoo or iGoogle. Email has a somewhat broader reach – 14% get news by email on any given day.

That about a quarter of adults (27%) under age 30 get no news on any given day – even when the array of mobile and online news sources are accounted for – is not new. The number of young people getting no news yesterday was comparably high in 2008 (29%) and 2006 (26%).

Even with their widespread adoption of modern communications technology – internet usage among those younger than 30 is nearly universal, 80% have profiles on social networking sites and 58% go online using their cell phones– fewer than half (48%) of young people got news over any kind of digital platform yesterday. In fact, more of those younger than 30 (57%) got news from traditional sources yesterday.

Instead, it is people in their 30s (30 to 39) who are the most likely to use digital technologies to get news. Fully 57% of those in their 30s say they got news through a digital platform yesterday – either online or mobile – the highest percentage of any age group. And 21% of those 30 to 39 say they got news through social networking or Twitter yesterday, which is higher than other age groups.

Many older Americans also use new technologies to get the news. Nearly half (49%) of people in their 40s got news yesterday through some internet or mobile source, as did 44% of those ages 50-64. Digital news drops off as a source only among those ages 65 and older (23%), largely because older Americans remain less likely to go online or use mobile technology. In many cases, seniors who do have the technology are just as likely to use it to get news as their younger counterparts (see Section 2: Online and Digital News).

While men and women are equally likely to get news from one or more traditional platform on a given day (75% of men, 74% of women), men are far more likely than women to get news digitally. Overall, half of men (50%) get news over some kind of online or digital platform on any given day, compared with 39% of women. Specifically, men are twice as likely as women (12% vs. 6%) to get news using cell phones, and more men than women also get news from email, RSS readers and customizable webpages. However, there is no gender gap in the percentage getting news through social networks or Twitter on any given day.

These gender differences persist across all age groups, but are particularly wide among younger adults. While 56% of men under 30 get news digitally on any given day, just 41% of young women do so. In fact, 20% of men in their late teens and twenties got only digital news yesterday – without any television, radio or print newspapers – compared with just 11% of women the same age.

College graduates and higher income Americans typically express the greatest interest in news, and also have the broadest access to new technology in both their personal and work lives. Thus, not surprisingly, there are large educational and income differences in the use of internet and other digital technologies to get news. Two-thirds of college graduates (66%) got news through a digital source yesterday, compared with 27% of adults with no more than a high school degree. Similarly, 64% of people with family incomes of $75,000 or more get digital news on any given day, compared with 27% of those with incomes of less than $30,000.

Television Still Has Broadest Reach

Even with the array of digital technology, the traditional news platforms of television, radio and print newspapers continue to reach a much broader segment of the public on any given day. Fully 75% of Americans report getting news from one or more of these mediums yesterday: 58% watching television news, 34% listening to news on the radio, and 26% reading a print newspaper. This compares to the 44% who got news over the internet or another digital platform. Even among the very youngest adults age 18-24, as many get news from television, print or radio (53%) as from a digital platform (48%) on any given day.

Among these sources, television stands apart not only because more people get news there, but also because people continue to spend more time getting news there than any other source. People getting TV news on any given day spend an average of 55 minutes doing so. This compares to 38 minutes among people getting news online and 37 minutes among people reading a newspaper. Measured another way, 56% of television news watchers spend an hour or more with television news, compared with 40% of radio news listeners and just 25% of online news consumers and 19% of print newspaper readers.

And television remains the dominant source for older Americans – 75% of people age 65 and older watch television news on any given day, while just 23% are getting news online or from any kind of digital source.

Print Newspapers’ Decline

While there has been no decline in the share getting news on television, the percentage saying the read a newspaper yesterday continues to slip. Overall, 37% of Americans report reading any kind of newspaper –in print or online – yesterday. That compares with 39% two years ago and 43% in 2006. The decline since 2006 represents a steep dropoff in print newspaper readership that is only partially offset by growth in online newspaper readership.

This year, 26% of adults report reading a print newspaper on any given day, down from 30% two years ago and 38% in 2006. The decline over the past four year spans all age groups. Looking at all Americans under age 50, the share reading a print newspaper on a given day has fallen by nearly half, from 29% in 2006 to 15% today. Among those ages 50 and older, print newspaper readership fell from 50% to 40% over the same time period.

Meanwhile, online newspaper readership has grown, though not enough to counterbalance the print decline. Currently, 17% of Americans say they read a newspaper online yesterday or visited a newspaper website. This is up from 13% two years ago and 9% in 2006, but is still lower than the 26% who read the newspaper in print. People in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s are all about equally likely to read newspapers online. The rate falls off among those ages 65 and older because fewer use the internet. Among seniors who use the internet, 17% read a newspaper online yesterday; that is comparable to the percentage of those under 65 who are online and read a newspaper (21%).

Time with the News

On average, the typical American spends 70 minutes watching, reading and listening to news on any given day. That is the highest level since the 2004 survey, which was conducted during the presidential campaign and amid rising violence in Iraq. The largest share of that time (32 minutes) is spent watching television news, 15% listening to news on the radio, and – reflecting the drop in overall readership – just 10 minutes reading a print version of the newspaper.

There is a consistently large gap in time spent on the news by age. Those who are younger than 30 spend just 45 minutes with the news on any given day. That compares with 68 minutes for people in their 30s, 74 minutes for people in their 40s, and more than 80 minutes for those people 50 and older.

Much of this is based on the fact that fewer younger people are getting any news on a given day, which brings down the average substantially. But even when younger people get news, they spend less time doing so than do older people. Those younger than 30 who got news yesterday spent, on average, 64 minutes doing so, compared with 85 minutes among those 30 and older.

Regular Sources of News

The relative stability in the number of adults who report getting television news on any given day is consistent with the trend in how many say they “regularly” get news from various types of television news programs. Following steep declines during the 1990s, the share who report regularly watching the national nightly network news programs has remained flat in recent years. Currently 28% watch the evening news regularly, little changed from 30% ten years ago. Roughly four-in-ten (39%) regularly watch cable news outlets, and half of Americans (50%) regularly watch the local TV news. Of these major TV news sources, only local news has experienced a significant decline over the past 10 years, from 56% in 2000 to 50% today.

By contrast, every year the number of Americans who describe themselves as regular readers of newspapers continues to fall. Currently, 40% say they regularly read a daily newspaper either in print or online, down from 46% two years ago and 52% in 2006. The share regularly reading local weekly community newspapers has fallen from 35% in 2006 to 33% in 2008 to 30% today. And fewer are reading news magazines such as Time, U.S. News or Newsweek; just 8% now say they read news magazines regularly, down from 12% in 2008 and 14% in 2006.

Meanwhile, consistent with the measure of use yesterday, the internet continues to grow as a regular source of news. In the latest survey, 46% say they get news online either every day (32%) or three-to-five days a week (14%). This is up from 37% two years ago and 31% in 2006, and just 2% when the question was first asked in 1995. Much of this reflects the continued growth in the share of Americans who have access to the internet.

Search engines have seen a particular surge in usage as a source of news over the past two years. A third (33%) of adults today say they use search engines to search for news on a particular topic at least three days a week or more, up from 19% in 2008 and 14% in 2006. But political blogs have seen no such increase – just 9% of Americans say that they regularly read blogs about politics or current events, virtually unchanged from 10% two years ago.

More Regularly Watching Fox News than CNN

For the first time in over a decade of tracking both audiences, more Americans say they regularly watch Fox News (23%) than CNN (18%). From 2002 through 2008 Fox News and CNN had run about even in the size of their regular audience, and in 1998 and 2000 CNN had the larger audience. But over the past two years, CNN’s regular audience has declined by six points while Fox News’ has remained stable. MSNBC and CNBC, which have consistently had fewer regular viewers than the other two cable networks, have also seen substantial drop-offs over the past two years. The share that regularly watch MSNBC fell from 15% in 2008 to 11% in 2010, and over this period CNBC’s regular audience fell from 12% to 8%.

The decline in regular CNN viewership – from 24% in 2008 to 18% today – spans many demographic and political groups. Fewer younger (under 30) and older people (50 and older) now say they watch CNN regularly. Notably, significantly more people age 65 and over now watch Fox News regularly (30%) than CNN (21%). Two years ago, those 65 and older were about as likely to regularly watch CNN (30%) as Fox News (29%).

The proportion of Democrats that reports watching CNN regularly has fallen from 33% in 2008 to 25% currently. As in 2008, about twice as many Democrats as Republicans regularly watch CNN (25% vs. 12%).

Meanwhile, regular viewership of Fox News, which was already politically polarized, has become even more partisan. Currently, 40% of Republicans say they regularly watch Fox News, compared with just 15% of Democrats. Two years ago, the partisan gap was narrower (36% of Republicans vs. 21% of Democrats). Independents continue to watch both cable news networks at about the same rate (17% regularly watch CNN, 20% regularly watch Fox News). (See Section 4, Who Is Listening, Watching, Reading – and Why, for a detailed look at the demographic and political profiles of the audiences for CNN, Fox News and other news sources.)

Opinion and Comedy Programming

A number of talk shows focusing on political opinions and humor appeal to relatively few regular viewers. One-in-ten Americans (10%) say they watch the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News regularly, unchanged from two years ago, but up from earlier in the decade. Glenn Beck’s program, which airs earlier in the day on Fox News, is watched regularly by 7%. About the same percentage regularly watches Sean Hannity’s program, which follows O’Reilly’s program. Reflecting the network’s smaller audience overall, talk and opinion shows on MSNBC have fewer regular viewers. Just 4% say they regularly watch Hardball with Chris Matthews, and 3% watch Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann regularly.

Seven percent of Americans say they regularly watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central – a regular audience which has grown over the past decade. Roughly the same number (6%) regularly watch the Colbert Report, which airs immediately following.

What Young and Old Watch Regularly

One characteristic of the talk and opinion shows on both Fox News and MSNBC is that they tend to appeal to older audiences. The gap is particularly wide for the O’Reilly Factor, which is watched regularly by 16% of people 65 and older, and 5% of those under 30, but the same pattern applies to his fellow Fox News hosts Beck and Hannity. At MSNBC, Chris Matthews is watched regularly by 8% of older adults, and just 1% of 18-29 year olds, with smaller age differentials for Maddow and Olbermann.

Not surprisingly, the age pattern is the reverse for Comedy Central’s programs. Among those younger than 30, 13% watch the Daily Show regularly, and the same number says they regularly watch the Colbert Report. Among people 65 and older, the figures are just 2% and 1%, respectively. Young people are about as likely to regularly watch these comedy shows as they are to regularly watch the network evening news, weekday morning news shows, or CNN.

Partisan News Choices

While many of the most widely used news sources – such as local TV news, network evening news programs and daily newspapers, reach about as many Republicans as Democrats, the same cannot be said for many other news sources, which have become increasingly politicized over the past decade.

As discussed above, 40% of Republicans regularly watch Fox News, compared with just 15% of Democrats. And this general partisan divide is magnified when political ideology is taken into account. Nearly half (48%) of conservative Republicans regularly watch Fox News, compared with 27% of moderate and liberal Republicans. Among Democrats, just 7% of liberals are regular Fox News viewers, compared with 18% of conservative and moderate Democrats.

Fox News is a top news source among conservative Republicans; the proportion saying they regularly watch Fox News (48%) is about equal to the percentages of conservative Republicans who watch local TV news (50%) or read a daily newspaper (47%).

No single news network ranks among the top sources for other partisan groups.

The partisan tilt in viewership of Fox News is even greater for individual programs on the network. Over a quarter (27%) of conservative Republicans say they regularly watch the O’Reilly Factor, compared with 9% of moderate and liberal Republicans, 9% of independents, 4% of conservative and moderate Democrats, and 1% of liberal Democrats. Viewership patterns for Hannity and Beck are comparable.

There also are differences in the other direction when it comes to MSNBC and its programs. For example, 7% of liberal Democrats say they regularly watch Rachel Maddow’s program, compared with 3% of conservative and moderate Democrats, 3% of independents, 2% of moderate and liberal Republicans, and 1% of conservative Republicans.

There is a sharp partisan divide when it comes to reading the New York Times regularly – 8% of Democrats and just 4% of Republicans do so. Among liberal Democrats, 13% regularly read the Times, compared with 5% of conservative and moderate Democrats, 6% of independents, 4% of moderate and liberal Republicans, and just 1% of conservative Republicans. The Wall Street Journal is read more regularly by Republicans (6%) than Democrats (3%), though the ideological differences are less pronounced.

When it comes to radio, Democrats (14%) and independents (14%) are more likely than Republicans (6%) to say they regularly listen to NPR. Nearly a quarter of liberal Democrats (23%) regularly get news from NPR, compared with 10% of conservative and moderate Democrats, 8% of moderate and liberal Republicans and 6% of conservative Republicans. By contrast, 13% of Republicans (including 17% of conservative Republicans) say they regularly listen to Rush Limbaugh’s radio program; that compares with just 4% of independents and 2% of Democrats.