Where we get the news

Americans still turn to television as their main source for news, but online news consumption continues to grow while newspaper readership plummets. That’s the headline from the Pew Research Center‘s latest survey on U.S. news habits.

After years of decline, the TV news audience may finally have bottomed out. Overall viewership numbers were basically unchanged from two years ago.  Local TV news remains more popular that either network or cable news–52% regularly watch local news, compared to 29% who watch network news and 39% who watch cable, the only TV source to show a substantial increase.

For print newspapers, however, the news is grim.

This year for the first time in roughly 15 years of asking the question, fewer than half of all Americans report reading a daily newspaper on a regular basis. Only 46% say they read the paper regularly – this number is down from 52% in 2006 and was as high as 71% in 1992. In a similar vein, fewer now report having read a newspaper “yesterday,” a more reliable measure of newspaper readership. Only 34% say they read a newspaper yesterday, down from 40% in 2006.

The numbers are even worse if you exclude online newspaper reading.  The audience for online newspapers based on the “read yesterday” question has grown to 13% from 9% two years ago, but the increase hasn’t been nearly enough to make up for the steep decline in print readership–now just 27% compared to 34% two years ago.

Not surprisingly, news consumption varies widely by age and education.  Well-educated, affluent Americans get at least some of their news online.  The most frequent Internet news consumers, dubbed “Net-Newsers” in the report (median age 35), also tend to watch news online.  “Nearly twice as many regularly watch news clips on the internet as regularly watch nightly network news broadcasts (30% vs. 18%).”

A few more key findings: More young adults are tuning out the news altogether.  About a third of those younger than 25 say they get no news on a typical day, up from a quarter ten years ago.  But those who watch programs like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are better informed about current events (based on test questions) than consumers of cable news, network news or newspapers.  As Greg Mitchell points out in Editor&Publisher, “the national average for answering the three questions was only 18%. But 34% of The Colbert Report fans got them right, with 30% of The Daily Show viewers doing so.”  Still, users of those sources trailed those of other, more traditional news sources: The New Yorker and The Atlantic (48%), NPR (44%), MSNBC’s Hardball (43%), and Hannity & Colmes (42%).