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How Americans describe their news consumption behaviors

Most Americans describe themselves as active news consumers. Sixty‑three percent report that they seek out news and information. Far fewer, 37 percent, say they mostly bump into news as they do other things or hear about it from others.

Americans also report consuming news and information frequently. By a large majority, nearly two‑thirds of adults now say they look at news at least several times a day. We are now a nation of serial news consumers.

Of that, 59 percent now say they look at news several times a day, and another 6 percent say they look several times an hour.

Nine in 10 Americans say it is at least moderately important to them to keep up with the news, including nearly half who say it is very or extremely important.

Compared to past research from the Media Insight Project in 2016 and 2017, these measures of news and information consumption have remained steady in 2018.

And how deep is our news consumption, if it is now so frequent? The data suggests that the answer to that is nuanced. People both scan and read deeply. A simplistic notion of distracted Americans just glancing at headlines with little effort at going deep does not accurately describe what people believe they are doing.

When it comes to specific behaviors, 4 in 10 Americans say they scan headlines at least several times a day, and another 3 in 10 say they read the headlines once a day. But Americans report watching, reading, or listening closely to the details of a story at the same rate.

Interestingly, though opinion content has become far more prevalent in a world when anyone can publish, far fewer adults say they regularly seek out commentary. More than 7 in 10 say they do this less than once a day or never.

Even if people — who admittedly elsewhere say they are somewhat confused by the difference between news and commentary — are mistaken in their behavior, these results are a fairly clear signal, reinforced in other answers, that they want news more than opinion. That should be a good sign for news organizations that want to invest in their reporting resources because it will distinguish them from the sea of opinion today.

News behavior More than once a day Once a day Less than once a day Never
Scan headlines of many stories 39% 30% 26% 5%
Closely watch/read/listen to one story 39% 29% 30% 2%
Focus on opinion pieces more than news reporting 10% 17% 61% 11%

Data Source: Question: “Everyone has a different way of consuming news. How often do you do each of the following?”
Study: "Americans and the News Media," 2018.

American Press Institute

The results are also interesting because they reveal that Americans describe their news consumption habits quite differently from the ways journalists perceive or expect the public to interact with news. Journalists view the public as more passive news consumers who focus on opinion and read less in‑depth.

For instance, 6 in 10 Americans (63 percent) describe themselves as active seekers of news. Journalists predict the number is less than half that (27 percent).

Inversely, just 37 percent of Americans say they mostly bump into news, but journalists predict that the number of bumpers is almost double that (72 percent).

Actively seek out news and information Mostly bump into news and information
Americans say they... 63% 37%
Journalists think most Americans... 28% 72%

Data Source: Question: “Choose the statement that best describes you, even if it is not exactly right. In general…”
Question: “Choose the statement that you think best describes news consumers in the United States, even if neither is exactly right. In general…”
Study: "Americans and the News Media," 2018.

Media Insight Project

The same disconnect or skepticism about consumers exists among journalists when it comes to how deeply they imagine their audiences read.

While Americans report actively scanning headlines and reading deeply into stories, journalists do not think this is the case. Four in 10 journalists say that the phrase “they rarely read beyond the headline” describes news consumers a lot. Just 1 in 10 say they read deeply into the details of stories a lot.

Similarly, Americans report less focus on commentary than journalists perceive. Half of Americans say they infrequently or never focus on opinion pieces over news reporting, but nearly 3 in 10 journalists say the phrase “they focus on opinion and mostly skip over news reporting” describes the public a lot, and 6 in 10 say it describes them a little.

The data suggest that one challenge journalists have in rebuilding trust is that they don’t have all that charitable views of the public. They believe the public dislikes journalists more than they do, and also that they are more passive and shallow.

A lot A little Not at all
People focus on opinion and skip news reporting 27% 60% 13%
People read deeply into details of stories 10% 76% 14%
People skim only the headlines 42% 49% 9%

Data Source: Question: “Here are some statements about news consumers in the United States. For each of the following statements, please indicate whether it describes news consumers a lot, a little, or not at all.”
Study: "Americans and the News Media," 2018.

Media Insight Project

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