The Modern News Consumer

News attitudes and practices in the digital era

Washington, D.C. (July 7, 2016) – Wave after wave of digital innovation has introduced a new set of influences on the public’s news habits. A new, two-part survey by Pew Research Center, conducted in early 2016 in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, examines the defining traits of the modern news consumer in this more complex and digital news environment.

Related Link

Pew Blog: Is TV news about to fall off the digital cliff?” by Jonathan Sotsky on Knight Blog, 7/7/2016

The report finds that more than seven-in-ten U.S. adults follow national and local news somewhat or very closely, while 65% follow international news with the same regularity. Fully 81% of Americans get at least some of this news through websites, apps or social networking sites. And, this digital news intake is increasingly mobile. Among those who get news both on desktop computers and mobile devices, more than half prefer mobile.

While news remains an important part of public life, the report also finds the public is cautious and discerning in its evaluation of available news sources.

Among the key findings that define today’s news consumers:

·       In 2016, Americans express a clear preference for getting their news on a screen – though which screen that is varies. TV retains its dominant position as a source of information (57% of U.S. adults often get TV-based news), while roughly four-in-ten U.S. adults often get news on digital platforms. Print, on the other hand, has declined dramatically. Just two-in-ten U.S. adults often get news from print newspapers, down from 27% in 2013.

·       News watchers overwhelmingly prefer TV while news readers prefer the web. More U.S adults prefer to watch news (46%) than prefer to read it (35%) or listen to it (17%). These news watchers still predominantly opt for TV and listeners turn to radio. But most of those who prefer reading news have migrated to the web (59% of news readers prefer to get their news online, compared with 26% who prefer print newspapers).    

·       Mobile news consumption is rising rapidly, while desktop/laptop usage holds steady. The portion of Americans who ever get news on a mobile device has gone up from 54% in 2013 to 72% today. Two-thirds (66%) of adults get news both from mobile and desktops/laptops, while 13% get news only on desktops/laptops and 5% only do so on mobile devices. Among those who get news on both, more (56%) prefer mobile.

·       Personal contacts are also a common source of news and can play an amplified role online, but online news organizations still play the larger role. About two-thirds (63%) of Americans say family and friends are an important way they get news, whether online or offline; 10% see them as the most important. Still, 36% of digital news consumers often get news from news organizations, compared with about half as many who do so from people with whom they are close (15%).

·       Few place a lot of trust in the information they get from professional outlets or from friends and family, but large majorities have at least some trust in both; social media gets substantially lower trust scores. Only about two-in-ten Americans trust the information they get from local (22%) or national (18%) news organizations a lot, whether online or offline, slightly higher than the 14% who say this of the information they get from their friends and family. Still, more than three-quarters have at least some trust in each, and all three rank much higher than social media. Only 4% of web-using adults have a lot of trust in the information they find on social media, and 34% have at least some trust.

·       U.S. adults see the news media as performing its watchdog function – but overwhelmingly say that news organizations are biased. Three-quarters of Americans think that news organizations keep political leaders in check – preventing them from doing things that they shouldn’t be doing. But about the same portion (74%) say news organizations tend to favor one side – including 75% of those who say the media prevents leaders from doing things they shouldn’t. Political differences emerge here, with conservative Republicans most likely to think that news organizations are one-sided.

·       While many Americans get news from social media, few social media news users are heavily engaged with news there. About a quarter of social networking news consumers (26%) often click on links to news stories on social media. But only 16% often “like” news stories, and fewer than that often comment on or discuss news stories or share/repost news stories on social media.  

·       Those who seek the news out online behave differently than those who stumble into news while doing other things online. Overall, more digital news consumers get their news online when they are accomplishing other digital tasks (55%) than specifically seeking the news out (44%). These news seekers are more interested in news overall – 63%  follow  news all or most of the time, compared with 43% of non-seekers – and are more likely to often get news online from news websites or apps (54% vs. 17% of non-seekers).

·       Younger adults are more likely than their elders to get news online, particularly from social media. But they are no more likely to engage with news on social media than others. About a third of those ages 18-29 often get news from social networking sites (32%), compared with less than a quarter of other age groups; 34% do so via news websites and apps, which is on par with those ages 30-49, but higher than those ages 50 and older. However, young adults are no more likely to share/repost news stories or comment on news stories than others.

These findings come from a two-part study which asked U.S. adults a wide range of questions about their news habits and attitudes and then over the course of a subsequent week asked them in real-time about news they had gotten in the last two hours. The first survey was conducted Jan. 12-Feb. 8, 2016, among 4,654 U.S. adults ages 18 and older who are members of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel. The second survey consisted of 14 short online surveys that were administered two per day from Feb. 24-March 1, 2016. Survey invitations were sent at different times each day, and responses were accepted for two hours after the invitations were sent. Panelists who completed the January wave on the web and reported that they get news online were asked to participate in the experiential study; 2,078 panelists participated and completed at least 10 of the 14 surveys. Read the full methodology here.

ALSO SEE: A blog post on key takeaways from the report.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Rachel Weisel at 202.419.4372 or [email protected].

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan “fact tank” that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take policy positions. The Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This report was made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which received support for this study from John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Subscribe to our daily and weekly email newsletters or follow us on our Fact Tank blog.


Media Contact: Rachel Weisel, 202.419.4372, [email protected]