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Millennials are hardly newsless, uninterested, or disengaged from news and the world around them

By any number of measures, staying in touch with the world is an important part of the lives of the first generation of digital adults.

Yet rather than news consumption occurring at certain times of the day as a defined activity — in “news sessions” — keeping up with the world is part of being connected and becoming aware more generally, and it often but not always occurs online. In many cases, news comes as part of social flow, something that may happen unexpectedly and serendipitously as people check to see what’s new with their network or community of friends. At other times news is something they seek out on their own. Most see news as an enjoyable or entertaining experience.

All of this reinforces findings from a previous study by the Media Insight Project entitled the Personal News Cycle. That research provided a broad challenge to the notion that these young digitally native adults are uninterested or are turning away from news about the world. Across a range of metrics — frequency, enjoyment, variety of topic interests, and more — younger adults are engaged news consumers.

News is a big part of Millennials’ online activity

The world is now literally in the pockets of the vast majority of Millennials much of the day. Fully 94 percent of those surveyed own smartphones connected to the internet. That compares with 69 percent of adults of all ages in our Personal News Cycle survey a year earlier. Fifty percent use a tablet, compared with 39 percent of all adults in the earlier survey.

What’s more, when asked how much of their news and information comes from online sources, 82 percent say at least half of it. The average Millennial reports getting 74 percent of her news from online sources, and that does not vary much by age or other demographic factors.

This does not mean all Millennials are constantly connected. Only about half, 51 percent, say they are connected most of the time. When they are online, news ranks relatively high among the list of activities, particularly those they engage in daily.

Just under two-thirds (64 percent) of Millennials say that they regularly keep up with what’s going on in the world and/or read or watch news.

This puts news roughly in the middle of a list of nine online activities that the survey asked about, but close to the most popular ones. Keeping up with the news falls only slightly behind the three most popular digital activities: checking and sending email (72 percent), keeping up with what friends are doing (71 percent), and streaming music, TV, or movies (68 percent).

Keeping up with the world and news ranks about the same as researching hobbies and other topics of interest (65 percent), and ahead of shopping or researching products (56 percent); finding information about events, movies, restaurants, etc. (56 percent); or playing games (45 percent). Fifty-seven percent report going online regularly for a practical form of the news — checking the weather, traffic, or public transportation.

Activity Percent of Millennials
Checking and sending email 72%
Keeping up with what friends are doing 71%
Streaming music, TV, or movies 68%
Researching topics interested in or pursuing hobbies 65%
Keeping up with what's going on in the world 64%
Checking the weather, traffic, or public transportation 57%
Shopping or researching products 56%
Finding information about events, movies, restaurants, etc. 56%
Playing games 45%

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

To get a stronger sense of the intensity of this news acquisition, the study probed not just where news ranked on the list but also how often they acquired news online. We found that news ranked even higher among Millennials’ online priorities by this measure. Of the 64 percent who say they regularly keep up with the news online, about 7 in 10 (69 percent) do so at least once a day, and 40 percent do so multiple times a day.

More Millennials keep up with news online at least once a day than pursue hobbies (57 percent), research products (29 percent), and find information about restaurants or movie times (21 percent).That is similar to the proportion who say they keep up with their friends at least once a day (67 percent) and the proportion streaming music, TV, or movies (66 percent) daily. Indeed, keeping up with the news ranks below only checking and sending email (81 percent) and checking weather, traffic, and public transportation (70 percent) as activities these younger Americans do every day.

Activity Percent of Millennials
Checking and sending email 81%
Checking the weather, traffic, or public transportation 70%
Keeping up with what's going on in the world 69%
Playing games 68%
Keeping up with what friends are doing 67%
Streaming music, TV, or movies 66%
Researching topics interested in or pursuing hobbies 57%
Shopping or researching products 29%
Finding information about events, movies, restaurants, etc. 21%

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

Millennials have a mix of motivations — civic, social, and practical — for keeping up with news

One question is whether this news acquisition is accidental or whether Millennials are conscious and motivated to learn about the world around them.

To get at this, the survey and qualitative interviews probed three different areas about motivation. The first asked how important news was to people in general. The second explored a list of reasons that people use news. The third asked why people choose to go to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in the first place, and then what they do when they get there.

The findings suggest that Millennials view news as fairly important and use it in ways that are an almost equal mix of social, civic, and practical. They also acquire more news on social media than they set out to.

Millennials view news as fairly important and use it in ways that are an almost equal mix of social, civic, and practical.

Overall, nearly 4 in 10 Millennials (38 percent) say it is very or extremely important to them personally to keep up with the news. An additional 47 percent consider it somewhat important. The same sentiment was echoed in our in-depth, qualitative discussions with younger adults. One reason that news is important, some said, is that they see so much of it in social media feeds. The news, in effect, is already contextualized as important to their lives because it is important to the members of their social networks.

In our qualitative discussions, we also heard about another factor that makes news important to some younger adults. This has to do with the notion that, partly because technology is so altering modern life, their generation is changing the world for the better, and they are excited to see how that is happening. The news tells them that.

“I have so much faith in my generation to change the course of this country, and I love seeing that play out in the news, whether it be through health care changes, gay marriage acceptance, sexual education and access to information, and race issues,” said Lauren, age 23 in Chicago. “Sure, 1 out of every 10 articles I read about these issues is sensationalized, but for the most part I have so much respect for the impact that my generation is making on these social issues, and I love staying up-to-date on the justice that is happening for the poor, the discriminated, etc.”

The survey also asked people about how they use the news. We asked about 13 different ways that people might use news, which fell into three general categories. One category was civic (such as helping me be a better citizen, take action on issues I care about, or identify where I stand on issues). A second category was social (so I can talk about the news with friends or feel connected). The third category was practical (to help save money, stay healthy, or solve problems).

Millennials are fairly evenly split in their motivations for getting news and information. Seventy-four percent report following the news for at least one civic reason. Sixty-seven percent cite social reasons, and 63 percent cite at least one practical or “news-you-can-use” reason like finding things to do or managing money.

Reason for using news Percent who say this is a main reason
Stay informed and be a better citizen 57%
Find it enjoyable or entertaining 53%
Like to talk to people about news 53%
Decide where I stand on things 47%
Feel connected to my community 45%
Find places to go and things to do 39%
Take action to address issues I care about 35%
Stay healthy 26%
Solve problems 24%
Save or manage my money 24%
Help me in my job 24%
Raise my family 14%

MEDIA INSIGHT PROJECT

Finally, as we will discuss in more detail later, news may not be the reason that people initially go to Facebook or Twitter, but it has become one of the biggest activities they engage in when they are there.

News as part of the connected life

For most Millennials, the way they learn about the world is a blend of actively seeking out some news and information and bumping into other information as they do other things throughout their day. Many of their encounters with news occur online.

When asked to choose which comes closer to their behavior on a typical day, 60 percent of Millennials overall say that they mostly bump into news and information as they do other things, while 39 percent say they actively seek out news and information.

Those who see themselves as more proactive news consumers are more likely than those who mostly bump into news to cite some reasons for consuming news. For instance, they are more likely to say that news helps them stay informed and be better citizens (66 percent vs. 52 percent) and that they like to talk to friends, family, and colleagues about news (63 percent vs. 46 percent). They are also more likely to say it helps them feel connected to their communities (52 percent vs. 41 percent), and to feel that it helps them take action on issues they care about (41 percent vs. 31 percent).

But the data show an intra-generational divide. Only a third of the youngest Millennials, those under age 25, describe themselves as mostly proactive news consumers. By contrast, fully half of those over age 30 do so. These older Millennials are evenly divided between those who mostly seek out news and those who mostly bump into it.

When the research probed more deeply by topic, as described in a later section of this report, it reveals that almost all Millennials engage in both kinds of news acquisition — more proactive and random — no matter what their age.

In Millennials’ Words

What role does news play in your life?

“Probably top three would be I use Facebook a lot to talk to my friends, like a big group chat because we all go to different colleges. And then my next one would be Netflix; I watch a lot of that. And then I go on Reddit a lot and other news things.”
– Connor, sophomore, University of Mary Washington

How easy or hard is it to find news and information these days?

Easy: “Very easy. If it’s something big, it’s going to be on social media within seconds. You’re going to see it. It doesn’t take that long for anything to start trending.”
— Sam, age 19, San Francisco

Hard: “I feel like you have to scout for [general news]. It’s not easy for me to get public news. I had no idea about the French terrorist [event]. I only caught a glimpse of that a couple of days ago on the TV in the restaurant.”
— Liz, sophomore, University of Mary Washington

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