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How Millennials Get News: Paying for content

This research was conducted by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Introduction

Despite growing up amid abundant free online entertainment and news, today’s young adults still use significant amounts of paid content. Selling news to young people remains difficult, but the data from a new study finds reasons for optimism and suggests new ways to think about the challenge.

The vast majority of the Millennial Generation, those Americans age 18 to 34, regularly use paid content for entertainment or news, whether they personally pay for the subscriptions and other forms of paid content themselves or someone else pays the bill, according to a new report on Millennials’ news habits1.

While use of paid entertainment content, including music, movies, television, and video games, is most common among Millennials, 53 percent report regularly using paid news content — in print, digital, or combined formats — in the last year.

Furthermore, 40 percent of Millennials personally paid for news products or services out of their own pockets. Millennials over age 21, those most likely to be on their own or out of school, are twice as likely as those age 18-21 to personally pay for news (more than 4 in 10 vs. 2 in 10).

A younger adult’s willingness to pay for news is correlated with his or her broader beliefs about the value of news. The people who want to stay connected with the world, who are interested in news, and who are more engaged with news on social networks are the most likely to be willing to personally pay for news. That “news orientation” is the biggest driver of a person’s willingness to pay for news, more so than a person’s age or socioeconomic status.

These basic findings — Millennials do regularly use and often personally pay for news content — challenge the notion that Millennials believe everything on the web must be free. But there are still significant obstacles, according to the data, that will make a paid or subscription model a challenge for publishers looking to reach the next generation of news consumers. For example, even among those Millennials who say keeping up with the news is very important to them, only half personally pay for news content. And, even among Millennials who do pay for news, free services like Facebook and search engines are their most common sources for obtaining news on many topics.

These are findings of a new study of Millennials by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The new report on paying for news is a deeper examination, with new analysis and data, of a larger study of Millennials released earlier this year.

The study included a nationally representative survey of adults age 18 to 34 and in-depth interviews with several small groups of Millennials. These small group discussions highlight two potential reasons why some Millennials may not pay for news: there is so much free news it’s hard to see the value of paying, and a belief that access to news should be free to facilitate being an informed citizen.

These basic findings — Millennials do regularly use and often personally pay for news content — challenge the notion that Millennials believe everything on the web must be free.

Among the study’s other findings:

  • In all, 87 percent of Millennials personally pay for some type of subscription or other paid service, including news or entertainment services.
  • The most popular content Millennials pay for personally is downloaded, rented, or streamed movies and television (55 percent) and music (48 percent).
  • More Millennials pay for print magazines (21 percent) and newspapers (15 percent) than digital magazines (11 percent) and newspaper media content online (10 percent).
  • Older Millennials are more likely than younger Millennials to pay out of their own pocket for news (roughly 45 percent over age 21 vs. 23 percent age 18-21).
  • There are no major socioeconomic differences between those who pay for news and those who do not pay for such services.
  • Ninety percent of those who pay for news also pay for entertainment.
  • Those who personally pay for news are more likely than those who do not pay to use news for personal or professional reasons such as helping them with their job (29 percent vs. 20 percent).
  • Yet only half of Millennials who say keeping up with the news is important personally pay for news products or services.
  • Millennials who pay for news are more likely to follow sports (56 percent vs. 44 percent) and current events such as national politics (51 percent vs. 38 percent) than those who do not pay for news.
  • Those who pay for news tend to also engage more with news on free platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Even among Millennials who pay for news, Facebook and search engines are their most common sources for obtaining news on many topics.

The first section of this report describes the Millennials who use and pay for news, and the second section describes how this paying population’s news habits differ from those of non-payers.

Study methods

The findings in this report are based on both in-depth interviews and a survey conducted by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The nationally representative survey of 1,045 adults between the ages of 18 and 34 was conducted between January 5 and February 2, 2015. The final response rate was 14 percent, and the overall margin of error was +/- 3.8 percentage points. In addition to the survey, the research included 10 semi-structured, in-person interviews with small groups of Millennials to understand their news habits.

  1. The terms subscriptions, services, and paid content are used in this report to refer to the items asked about on the survey including: “music you download or stream on iTunes, Spotify or other platforms,” “cable television,” “print magazines,” “digital subscriptions for magazines,” “print newspapers,” “digital subscriptions to newspapers,” “movies or television shows you download, rent or stream on iTunes, Netflix, or other services,” “video games or gaming apps,” “digital news apps,” “other apps,” “an email newsletter,” “a subscription service for ebooks or audiobooks such as Kindle unlimited or Audible,” “an e-learning service or online course,” or “a sample-box service such as Birchbox or Goodebox.”

Who uses and pays for news

Most Millennials use paid subscription or other content services, and about half use some kind of news-specific service

Contrary to the idea that Millennials think the web is free, the vast majority of Millennials used some kind of paid product or service in the past year, including a majority who use at least one for news.

To get at this, the study conducted in-depth interviews about what kinds of paid content people used, which informed the list of products and services asked about in the survey. The survey instrument then asked people about 14 different types of paid entertainment, news, or educational products and services. For each service, the survey distinguished whether the respondent pays for it themselves or if they use someone else’s.

Overall, 93 percent of Millennials say they regularly use some sort of paid content of any kind (whether they pay for it personally or use someone else’s), and 87 percent have personally paid for such a subscription or service.

The two most popular types of paid subscriptions or content regularly used by Millennials are those that access online movies and TV (77 percent) and cable television (69 percent). A majority of Millennials also use paid content for music (54 percent) and video games (51 percent).

The most popular paid news subscriptions or content regularly used by Millennials are print magazines (30 percent) and print newspapers (29 percent). Fewer than 1 in 5 Millennials regularly use paid access to a digital news app (19 percent), a digital newspaper (15 percent), a digital magazine (15 percent), or an email newsletter (15 percent).

In terms of educational or commercial services, fewer than 1 in 4 Millennials regularly use a fee-based e-learning service (25 percent), an eBook or audio book subscription (21 percent), or a sample-box service (9 percent).

Pay personally Someone else pays
Movies or TV downloads 55% 23%
Cable TV 41% 28%
Music 48% 6%
Video games 46% 5%
Other apps 38% 5%
Print magazine 21% 9%
Print newspaper 15% 13%
E-learning service or online course 18% 6%
Ebooks or audiobooks 18% 3%
Digital news apps 14% 5%
Digital magazine 11% 5%
Digital newspaper 10% 6%
Email newsletter 10% 5%
Sample box 7% 2%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.1

Media Insight Project

While it is true that many paid print subscriptions come as a bundled package of print and digital access, the data reveal that more Millennials are using the print versions. If we look more closely at those who use paid news, they fall into three categories: those who regularly use paid news only when it’s in print (38 percent), those who regularly use paid news both in print and digital form (41 percent), and those who regularly use paid news only when it’s digital (21 percent).

Percent
Use paid news
only in print
38%
Use both types
of paid news
41%
Use paid news
only in a digital format
21%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

When it comes to using paid print news, there are very few demographic differences among Millennials. The one notable exception is that Hispanics are less likely than whites to use print (33 percent vs. 47 percent). In comparison, about 39 percent of African Americans use print.

Millennials are more likely to personally pay for entertainment than news

Most of the entertainment services used by Millennials are paid for out of their own pockets—not by using someone else’s subscription or service. Indeed, fully 78 percent of Millennials personally pay for at least one of three different entertainment services (movies or TV, music, or video games).

That is nearly double the number of Millennials who pay out of their own pocket for news. Here, 40 percent of Millennials personally pay for at least one of six news-related subscriptions, products, or services (print magazine, digital magazine, print newspaper, digital newspaper, email newsletter, or digital news app). An additional 13 percent of Millennials use a news-related subscription, product, or service paid for by someone else.

Age is associated with using a news subscription or product paid for by someone else. Those age 18-21 are more likely to only use a subscription or product that someone else pays for (23 percent) than those 22-24 years old (12 percent), those 25-29 years old (10 percent), and those 30-34 years old (9 percent).

Most of the entertainment services used by Millennials are paid for out of their own pockets — not by using someone else’s subscription or service.

One reason for the difference between rates of paying personally for entertainment versus news content, however, may not be a lack of interest in news as much as a sense that the news is both already free and that, because of its civic nature, citizens shouldn’t have to pay for it. These are both concepts that we heard in our in-depth interviews with Millennials around the country.

During the interviews, Megan, a freshman at the University of Mary Washington, agreed with the general notion that it is not necessary to pay for news because it is so widely available for free online, but she says that she would be willing to pay for “something hands on” such as a print magazine with an annual subscription because “that’s probably worth it.”

Likewise, Connor, a sophomore at the University of Mary Washington, says, “I don’t think I would pay for it just because there’s so much availability of news on the internet for free that I feel like, if I have to pay for something somewhere, I’ll just look for it free somewhere else.”

While Millennials with more education and those with jobs are more likely to personally pay for at least one type of subscription or product, income itself is not a significant predictor of whether Millennials personally pay for news content or not. Likewise, income is not a significant factor in whether Millennials personally pay for entertainment content. However, men and those with jobs are more likely to pay for entertainment.

Among Millennials who personally pay for news, many pay for print

The study also challenges to some degree the notion that Millennials have no interest in paying for print media, though the numbers here are nuanced.

About 1 in 5 Millennials personally pay for a print magazine (21 percent) and 15 percent pay for a print newspaper, which makes such print subscriptions or products the two most popular forms of paid news.

At the same time, 14 percent of Millennials personally pay for a digital news app, 11 percent pay for a digital magazine, 10 percent pay for a digital newspaper, and 10 percent pay for an email newsletter.

In total, 29 percent of Millennials pay for any print subscription or product, and 25 percent pay for some type of digital news.

Percent
Print magazine 21%
Print newspaper 15%
Digital news app 14%
Digital magazine 11%
Digital newspaper 10%
Email newsletter 10%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

While Hispanic ethnicity was the only demographic factor that predicted the use of paid print content (whether paying for the content personally or using someone else’s subscription or product), age is a factor in predicting whether people personally pay for that print news content. Older Millennials are more likely to personally pay for print news than their younger peers. Among Millennials age 18-21, just 15 percent of those age 18-21 pay for print news, compared to 30 percent of those 22-24 years old, 33 percent of those 25-29 years old, and 35 percent of those 30-34 years old.

Older Millennials are more likely to personally pay for news

Does age also relate to more willingness to pay for news in general?

The answer is yes.

Older Millennials — that is those over age 21 — are about twice as likely as those age 18-21 to pay for news personally. Forty-four percent of those age 30-34 pay for news out of their own pocket, as do 46 percent of those 25-29 years old, and 45 percent of those 22-24 years old, compared to 23 percent of those 18-21 years old.

Age Percent
18-21 23%
22-24 45%
25-29 46%
30-34 44%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

Even taking into consideration use of subscriptions or products that other people pay for, the youngest Millennials are still significantly less likely than their older peers to use paid news. In this case, 46 percent of those age 18-21 use a news subscription or product, whereas more than half of older Millennials use a news subscription or product (57 percent of 22-24 year olds, 57 percent of 25-29 year olds, and 53 percent of 30-34 year olds).

Younger Millennials are also less likely to pay personally for certain types of news. In particular, younger Millennials are less likely than older ones to pay for print newspapers out of pocket (7 percent of 18-21 year olds, 15 percent of 22-24 year olds, 18 percent of 25-29 year olds, and 20 percent of 30-34 year olds) and print magazines (9 percent of 18-21 year olds, 22 percent of 22-24 year olds, 25 percent of 25-29 year olds, and 26 percent of 30-34 year olds).

Importantly, however, there are no age differences when it comes to paying personally for digital magazines, digital newspapers, news apps, and email newsletters. In other words, older Millennials are more likely to personally pay for print, but not digital, news.

Pay personally for print newspaper Pay personally for print magazine
18-21 7% 9%
22-24 15% 22%
25-29 18% 25%
30-34 20% 26%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

Millennials who believe it is important to keep up with the news are more likely to personally pay for news; however, even among these engaged consumers only half pay for their news

Besides age, what factors are associated with whether someone pays for news? There are various attitudinal factors that the study reveals may influence willingness to pay.

Believing news is important is a factor. Millennials who believe keeping up with the news is extremely or very important are significantly more likely to personally pay for news than those who do not (50 percent vs. 34 percent).

But it would be a mistake to think that simply persuading people that news is important will lead people to want to pay for it. And the more salient data point here may be that even half of those who believe following the news is extremely or very important still do not pay for any news themselves.

Among Millennials who say following the news is important, age plays a significant factor in whether they pay for news themselves. In particular, Millennials of college age (18-21 years old) who say following the news is important are less likely to pay for news themselves (31 percent) than those 22-34 years old who say following the news is important (55 percent).

Percent
Keeping up with news is extremely or very important 50%
Keeping up with news is somewhat important 35%
Keeping up with news is not very or not at all important 32%

Data Source: Question: How important is it to you personally to keep up with the news, if at all? Not at all important, not very important, somewhat important, very important, or extremely important.
Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

Just as we heard in interviews that the prevalence of news being free is one obstacle to people wanting to pay for it, another obstacle we heard is that the importance of the news itself is a reason not to pay for it.

In one case, Lauren, age 23 in Chicago, told us her feelings about the civic importance of keeping up with the news. “Another reason I watch and read the news is because I feel a social responsibility to do so…. I keep up with world news for similar reasons, more so leaning on that idea of civic responsibility to do so. I don’t want to live in a bubble where I only know what’s happening here in the United States.” However, when we asked later in the discussion whether she pays for any of that news content, she said she does not.

Even more to the point, we heard from Sam, age 19 in San Francisco, who said, “I really wouldn’t pay for any type of news because as a citizen it’s my right to know the news.”

Millennials who say keeping up with the news is important are more likely to personally pay for certain types of news products and services than others. In particular, they are more than twice as likely to pay for a news app (22 percent vs. 10 percent) and also significantly more likely to pay for any digital news subscriptions or services (34 percent vs. 20 percent).

Keeping up with news is not very or not at all important Keeping up with news is somewhat important Keeping up with news is extremely or very important
Digital news subscription 18% 21% 34%
Digital news app 5% 11% 22%

Data Source: Question: How important is it to you personally to keep up with the news, if at all? Not at all important, not very important, somewhat important, very important, or extremely important.
Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

While nearly half of Millennials personally pay for only entertainment content, a sizeable minority (nearly 4 in 10) personally pay for both entertainment and news

Another finding that may offer some hint for the future of the news industry is that there seems to be a connection between being willing to personally pay for subscriptions or content of any kind and paying for news.

Just under half of Millennials (42 percent), for instance, pay only for entertainment products and services and no news content. Virtually none pay just for news and not entertainment (just 4 percent). Yet nearly all of the Millennials who personally pay for news also pay for some entertainment online.

And in sharp contrast to the idea that Millennials won’t pay for online content at all, only 18 percent do not personally pay for entertainment or news subscriptions or content of any kind.

Percent
Entertainment only 42%
Both news and entertainment 36%
Neither 18%
News only 4%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

The 78 percent of Millennials who personally pay for an entertainment service are more likely to personally pay for news

Indeed, those who personally pay for entertainment are three times more likely to pay for news (46 percent) than those who do not pay for any entertainment content (18 percent).

Percent
Pay for entertainment subscription 46%
Do not pay for entertainment subscription 18%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

The connection between Millennials personally paying for entertainment and paying for news, moreover, holds across each type of news subscription, service, or product. Those who personally pay for entertainment products or services are more likely than those who do not to pay for a print magazine (25 percent vs. 8 percent), digital magazine (13 percent vs. 3 percent), digital newspaper (12 percent vs. 2 percent), print newspaper (17 percent vs. 8 percent), email newsletter (12 percent vs. 2 percent), and digital news app (17 percent vs. 4 percent).

Do not pay for entertainment content Pay for entertainment content
Print magazine 8% 25%
Print newspaper 8% 17%
Digital news app 4% 17%
Digital magazine 3% 13%
Digital newspaper 2% 12%
Email newsletter 2% 12%

Data Source: Question: Please select any of the following types of paid products or services that you have regularly used in the past year. For each one, please check whether you pay for the product or service yourself, someone else pays for it, or both.

Media Insight Project

Millennials interviewed have mixed feelings toward advertising in entertainment and news sources

The challenge of subscriptions and paying for news is only intensified by the mixed feelings Millennials have about advertising. In our interviews in particular, we heard a range of opinions about whether people were willing to accept advertising in exchange for free content.

As Connor, a sophomore at the University of Mary Washington, says, “If I’m on YouTube or something and an ad pops up, I’m like well you know what? I’m okay with this. It is 15 seconds. If there’s something on a sidebar, I’ll just ignore it.”

But for others, advertisements are enough to drive them away. Marwa, age 25 in Chicago, reports, “You can tell if it’s a low-quality article if it has all these ads and then all this junk all around it.”

And for some, if the exchange is explicit — paying a price for a commercial-free environment or accepting advertising — the choice becomes easier. They would rather not pay a subscription or fee.

Haley, age 22 from San Francisco, said that she’d rather deal with commercials than pay the nominal fee for the commercial-free premium version of a music streaming service.

“It depends on how many ads pop up or how many commercials are played. If it’s taking so long for me to watch the news or to listen to the song, I might just say forget it or I might go ahead and pay to take them all down. But I think my first vibe is just to be like forget it. I don’t even want to see it anymore,” says Eric, age 22 in Chicago.

  1. The “pay for it yourself” and “both” answer categories were combined to form the pay personally category.

How subscribers and non-subscribers differ

From a distance, Millennials who pay personally for news look fairly similar in their online habits to those who don’t pay.

They are equally as likely to be daily Facebook users (43 percent for payers and 45 for non-payers). They are similarly just as likely to use social networks to keep up with friends (both at 71 percent), to play games online (46 percent for payers and 45 percent for non-payers), or to go online for information about events, movies, or restaurants (58 percent for payers and 55 for non-payers). They are just as likely to be on Twitter several times a day (8 percent for news payers and 9 percent for non-payers).

But dig deeper and differences begin to emerge. For instance, people who pay personally for at least one news subscription, product, or service are more likely to check traffic and weather (64 percent) on a regular basis than people who don’t pay for any news (53 percent).

More revealing, in some ways, is that those who pay for news have some distinct behaviors and attitudes that distinguish them from those who do not personally pay for news.

For instance, those who personally pay for at least one news subscription, product, or service are more likely to use news to help them professionally and are also more likely to be participatory in their use of news on social networks—posting articles, commenting on them, and tweeting about them. They are more likely to follow certain subjects than those who do not pay for news.

Do not personally pay for news Personally pay for news
Checking and sending email 71% 75%
Streaming music, TV, or movies 66% 71%
Keeping up with what's going on in the world 60% 71%
Keeping up with what friends are doing 71% 71%
Pursuing hobbies 63% 68%
Checking the weather, traffic, or public transportation 53% 64%
Shopping or research products 55% 59%
Finding information about events, movies, restaurants, etc. 55% 58%
Playing games 45% 46%

Data Source: Question: Which of the following activities, if any, would you say you do regularly online? Please select all that apply.

Media Insight Project

Millennials who pay for news are more likely to engage with news on social media

While paying for news does not relate to social media use in general, it is associated with more news-related activities on social networks. On Facebook, for instance, those who pay for news are more likely than those who do not to post or share a news story they have read online (49 percent vs. 38 percent), to comment on a news story on Facebook (40 percent vs. 29), and to like a news story (65 percent vs. 56 percent).

On Twitter, those who pay personally for news are more likely than those who do not to compose a tweet about something news related (31 percent vs. 20 percent), to tweet a news story they have read on other websites (29 percent vs. 18 percent), and to see what’s trending (19 percent vs. 13 percent).

Motivations for using news differ among those who personally pay for news and those who do not

People who pay for news are also more likely to report using news to help themselves either personally or professionally. News subscribers and those who pay for news products, for instance, are more likely than those who do not personally pay for news to use news and information to decide where they stand on things (52 percent vs. 44 percent), to help them with their job (29 percent vs. 20 percent), and to manage their money (28 percent vs. 22 percent).

Yet some elements of news use do not distinguish those who are inclined to pay out of their own pocket. Interestingly, Millennials who personally pay for news are just as likely as those who do not pay to say they get news because they find it enjoyable or entertaining (55 percent vs. 52 percent). There is no significant difference between the two groups in saying they get news to feel more connected to their community (49 percent vs. 43 percent) or to be informed to be a better citizen (56 percent vs. 59 percent).

In short, rather than news as a way to pass the time or be a good citizen, paying for news appears to be more connected to things that are tangible — managing the traffic and weather, helping your career, deciding where you stand on issues.

Millennials who pay for news are more likely to follow several news topics, including many current events

There are also some differences in the lifestyle topics that those who personally pay for news and those who do not pay follow in the news. Millennials who personally pay for news are more likely than those who do not pay, for instance, to follow information about food and cooking (50 percent vs. 41 percent) and the arts and culture (35 percent vs. 25 percent). Those who pay for news out of their own pocket are also more likely to follow sports (56 percent vs. 44 percent).

However, for other topics there are no differences between those who personally pay for news and those who do not. Everyone in fairly equal measure, for instance, seems to follow certain entertainment and lifestyle topics — in particular music, TV, movies, health, and fitness.

Do not personally pay for news Personally pay for news
Music, TV, and movies (including reviews, showtimes, etc.) 65% 68%
Sports 44% 56%
Food and cooking (including recipes) 41% 50%
Health and fitness 37% 44%
Local restaurants or entertainment 34% 37%
Celebrities or pop culture 33% 36%
The arts and culture 25% 35%
Style, beauty, and fashion 24% 28%

Data Source: Question: Here are some lifestyle news and information topics. Which of these topics, if any, do you regularly follow? Please select all that apply.

Media Insight Project

There are even more noticeable, and in some ways predictable, differences when it comes to news that falls into the category of current events.

Fifty-one percent of Millennials who personally pay for news regularly follow news about national politics or government compared with 38 percent of those who do not pay for news. Those who personally pay for news are also more likely than those who do not pay to follow health care and medical information (42 percent vs. 31 percent), schools and education news (39 percent vs. 28 percent), and information about business and the economy (35 percent vs. 25 percent).

Do not pay for news Pay for news
National politics or government 38% 51%
Crime and public safety 42% 47%
Science and technology 41% 45%
Health care and medical information 31% 42%
Social issues 36% 39%
Schools and education 28% 39%
The environment and natural disasters 34% 38%
Business and the economy 25% 35%
Foreign or international news 27% 34%
Religion or faith 20% 25%

Data Source: Question: Here are some current events news and information topics. Which of these topics, if any, do you regularly follow? Please select all that apply.

Media Insight Project

With only a few exceptions, Millennials who personally pay for news and those who do not pay use similar pathways to find news

Finally, do those who pay for news out of their own pocket take a different gateway to the news than those who do not pay? Are they more likely to go straight to news sources and less likely to discover news through social networks? The answer is that, with only a few exceptions for a couple of topics, there are very few differences. And for many topics, Facebook and search engines are the most commonly cited paths to the news even among those who personally pay for a news subscription, product, or service.

Both groups, for instance, are most likely to cite local TV news as their source for traffic and weather, much as older groups of Americans are. Those who personally pay for news are somewhat more likely to cite local TV news as their top path to community news. Both groups are most likely to use search engines to find science news. Those who personally pay for news are somewhat more likely to cite national television sources (broadcast or cable) as their path to foreign or business news. Otherwise, there are few differences.

And even when Facebook or search engines are not the most commonly cited source of news about a topic, these sources are frequently used by those who personally pay for news. For example, national television is the most commonly cited source for news about business and the economy among those who personally pay for news (41 percent), but nearly as many of them use a search engine (40 percent).

Millennials who personally pay for news and those who do not are relatively similar in getting news on current events

Topic Most common source for those who personally pay for news Most common source for those who do not pay for news
Traffic or weather Local TV station Local TV station
Crime and public safety Facebook Facebook
National politics and government Facebook Facebook
Science and technology Search engine Search engine
Information about my city, town, or neighborhood Local TV station Facebook
Social issues like abortion, race, and gay rights Facebook Facebook
Health care and medical information Search engine Facebook
The environment and natural disasters Local TV Facebook
Schools and education Facebook Word of mouth
Foreign or international news National TV network Facebook
Business and the economy National TV network Search engine
Religion and faith Word of mouth Facebook

Data Source: Question: Where do you most often get your information on this topic? Please select all that apply.

Media Insight Project

About the study

This survey was conducted by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute (API) and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The survey was conducted from January 5 through February 2, 2015. The survey was funded by API. The API, NORC at the University of Chicago, and AP staff collaborated on all aspects of the study.

The study included multiple modes of data collection. The portion of the survey involving screening for age eligibility and recruitment was completed by telephone, while the main portion of the questionnaire was administered online. The telephone component included only cell phone numbers (no landlines), and used both random-digit-dial (RDD) and age-targeted list sample from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. During recruitment efforts, a total of 6,635 adults provided age information, and 2,297 (35 percent) were deemed eligible because they fell between the ages of 18 and 34. Of those 2,297, a total of 1,759 respondents (77 percent) went on to complete the recruitment phase of the survey, which involved agreeing to receive an invitation for the web survey either by email or text message, and providing one’s email address or cell phone number. Of the recruited participants, 1,045 (59 percent) completed the web survey. The final response rate was 14 percent, based on the American Association for Public Opinion Research Response Rate 3 method.

Respondents were offered one small monetary incentive for participating in the telephone portion of the survey, as compensation for phone usage charges, and another small monetary incentive for participating in the web portion of the survey. Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish, depending on respondent preference. All telephone recruitments were completed by professional interviewers who were carefully trained on the specific survey for this study.

The RDD sample was provided by a third-party vendor, Marketing Systems Group. The age-targeted list sample was provided by a second vendor, Scientific Telephone Samples. The sample design aimed to ensure the sample representativeness of the population in a time- and cost-efficient manner. The sampling frame utilizes the standard cell phone RDD frame, with a supplemental sample of cell phone numbers targeting adults between the ages of 18 and 34. The targeted sample was pulled from a number of different commercial consumer databases and demographic data.

Sampling weights were appropriately adjusted to account for potential bias introduced by using the targeted sample. Sampling weights were calculated to adjust for sample design aspects (such as unequal probabilities of selection) and for nonresponse bias arising from differential response rates across various demographic groups and for no coverage of the population without access to cell phones. Post stratification variables included age, sex, race/ethnicity, region, and education. The weighted data, which thus reflect the U.S. population of 18- to 34-year-old adults, were used for all analyses. The overall margin of error was +/- 3.8 percentage points, including the design effect resulting from the complex sample design.

All analyses were conducted using STATA (version 13), which allows for adjustment of standard errors for complex sample designs. All differences reported between subgroups of the U.S. population are at the 95 percent level of statistical significance, meaning that there is only a 5 percent (or less) probability that the observed differences could be attributed to chance variation in sampling. Additionally, bivariate differences between subgroups are only reported when they also remain robust in a multivariate model controlling for other demographic, political, and socioeconomic covariates. A comprehensive listing of all study questions, complete with tabulations of top-level results for each question, is available on the Media Insight Project’s website: www.mediainsight.org.

Qualitative group interviews

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, in collaboration with the American Press Institute, conducted 10 semi-structured interviews with groups of Millennials, age 18-34. Three group interviews were conducted in Chicago, Illinois, on December 11, 2014; two were conducted in San Francisco, California, on January 7, 2015; two were conducted in Oakland, California, on January 7-8, 2015; and three were conducted in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on January 22, 2015.

Select participants in each of the locations also consented to completing follow-up activities. These activities included: 1) a self-reflection, interview, and essay exercise, and 2) a data diary. These exercises were intended to gather additional information about how these Millennials think about news and information, what news and information is important to them, and how they follow a news story of interest.

All participants received a monetary incentive for the discussion and an additional incentive to complete the follow-up activities. With the consent of the participants, all but one of the interviews were videotaped. There was a lead moderator for each group, and additional researchers asked probing questions. While there was a moderator guide to provide some direction, the interviews were meant to simulate a casual conversation to learn more about 1) how Millennials conceptualize news, 2) what topics and types of news Millennials value and why, and 3) how Millennials engage with news—or not—and how this has changed for them over their lifetime.

Across all sites, 17 Millennials between the ages of 18-24, and six between the ages of 25-34, were interviewed. The Chicago interviews took place in a coffee shop downtown. The San Francisco interviews took place in a coffee shop in the Financial District. The Oakland interviews were conducted in a downtown coffee shop. The Fredericksburg interviews took place outside a dining hall in a university building.

Chicago, Illinois

For the Chicago interviews, The AP-NORC Center commissioned a recruiter, FocusScope, to pre-recruit “friend groups” of Millennials, age 18-34. In each group, one participant was initially recruited by FocusScope, and he or she was asked to bring a friend or two to the discussion. The participants were recruited based on age, and to achieve a mix of demographics—income, education, race/ethnicity, and gender. All of the recruited respondents reported that they read, hear, or watch the news at least once a day.

Bay Area—San Francisco and Oakland, California

For the Bay Area interviews conducted in San Francisco and Oakland, AP-NORC commissioned Nichols Research to pre-recruit four friend groups. Again, recruiting was done based on age, a mix of demographic groups were recruited, and all recruited respondents reported that they read, hear, or watch the news at least once a day. In addition, there was an emphasis on finding respondents in San Francisco who identified as being always online and connected, as well as extremely tech-savvy. For the Oakland groups, respondents who were not always online were targeted, and they were not recruited based on the tech-savvy criteria.

Fredericksburg, Virginia—University of Mary Washington

For interviews conducted in Fredericksburg, AP-NORC staff used an intercept approach where participants were recruited onsite at a student center at the University of Mary Washington. Groups of friends were approached and asked if they were available to participate in the interviews in the next half hour. Three groups of participants were recruited this way, two pairs and one group of three.

Editor’s Note, 9/30: Some readers asked about the use of the term “subscriptions” in the initial release of the report as a catch-all phrase referring to different kinds of content for which consumers regularly paid. We have added language in some instances where the word subscriptions was used by itself to add clarity to what kind of paid content is being referenced.

Contributing researchers

From the American Press Institute

Tom Rosenstiel
Jeff Sonderman
Kevin Loker
Liz Worthington

From The Associated Press

Emily Swanson

From NORC at the University of Chicago

David Sterrett
Jennifer Titus
Jennifer Benz
Trevor Tompson
Dan Malato
Rebecca Reimer

About the Media Insight Project

The Media Insight Project is a collaboration of the American Press Institute and The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research with the objective of conducting high-quality, innovative research meant to inform the news industry and the public about various important issues facing journalism and the news business. The Media Insight Project brings together the expertise of both organizations and their respective partners, and involves collaborations among key staff at API, NORC at the University of Chicago, and The Associated Press.

About the American Press Institute

The American Press Institute (API) conducts research and training, convenes thought leaders, and creates tools to help chart a path ahead for journalism in the 21st century. API is an educational non-advocacy 501(c)3 nonprofit organization affiliated with the Newspaper Association of America. It aims to help the news media, especially local publishers and newspaper media, advance in the digital age.

About The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research taps into the power of social science research and the highest-quality journalism to bring key information to people across the nation and throughout the world.

The Associated Press (AP) is the world’s essential news organization, bringing fast, unbiased news to all media platforms and formats.

NORC at the University of Chicago is one of the oldest and most respected, independent research institutions in the world.

The two organizations have established The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research to conduct, analyze, and distribute social science research in the public interest on newsworthy topics, and to use the power of journalism to tell the stories that research reveals.

The founding principles of The AP-NORC Center include a mandate to carefully preserve and protect the scientific integrity and objectivity of NORC and the journalistic independence of AP. All work conducted by the Center conforms to the highest levels of scientific integrity to prevent any real or perceived bias in the research. All of the work of the Center is subject to review by its advisory committee to help ensure it meets these standards. The Center will publicize the results of all studies and make all datasets and study documentation available to scholars and the public.

Download a PDF or topline results

For printing and offline viewing, a PDF version of this report and the topline survey results are available for download.

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