Contrary to general wisdom that media consumption differs by age—older people read print newspapers; teenagers watch online videos—a study released on Monday shows that the type and urgency of a news story, rather than audience demographics, determine where Americans go for their news. And people across generations use a variety of different platforms to receive news.
According to the “Personal News Cycle” study, released by the Media Insight Project, more than six in 10 American adults get their news from television, radio, print, computers, or smartphones each week, and the average adult uses four types of media weekly to stay informed.
The study is the first to be released by the Media Insight Project, a joint initiative of the Associated Press, the American Press Institute, and the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago. The results were drawn from a nationally representative telephone survey of 1,492 adults between January and February 2014.
“We set out to try to get a more nuanced and in-depth picture of how Americans think about news, and how they consume it,” said AP Polling director Jennifer Agiesta. “The most surprising part is that the appetite for news is not limited to older, more educated, higher-income people,” she said.
In fact, three quarters of Americans check the news at least daily, and half of Americans surveyed said that they have no preferred device for receiving it, instead choosing whichever technology was most convenient to or suitable for the news they wanted. When asked about a recent breaking news story, half of those surveyed said they had first heard about it on television—half of these news consumers then choose to pursue the story online.
Although social media was a growing source for news—four in 10 Americans said they got their news in the last week from social media—Americans of all generations were more than twice as likely to trust what they learned directly from a news organization as they were to trust news they found via social media. A recent Pew survey on traffic to news sites also found that direct visitors, who typed in a URL or used a bookmark, spent far more time on these sites than those referred through Facebook.
And legacy media remains resilient. Despite the rise of digital, this research showed that nearly half of 18 to 29 year olds read the news in print, as well as getting their news via social media networks or on the Web. Three in four watched television news and just over half listened to the news on the radio.
“People have preferences for how they get different types of news,” Agiesta said. “What they want from a particular organizations is dictated by the topic of the news.”