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How Millennials Use Technology to Get News: Differences by race and ethnicity

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

A new study of Millennials and news finds that Hispanic and African American adults under age 35 are just as connected to the web as the rest of their generation, but they find news in somewhat different ways, and they tend to follow a different mix of subjects.

The new study is a deeper examination of a larger report on the Millennial generation produced by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration between the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago.

One of the distinctions of the digital age is that it gives consumers more control over the information they consume, the sources they seek out, and the pathways they use to get it. An important question in trying to understand the first generation that grew up with that technology—the first digital generation—is whether those choices are extending or blurring differences between races and ethnic groups.

Hispanic and African American Millennials are more likely to use YouTube and Instagram for news than Millennials in general.

This new study finds that, among the various groups, the similarities are probably more numerous than the differences in the way Millennials learn about the world, but there are some distinctions.

One of those involves the social networks different groups rely on for news and information. In particular, Hispanic and African American Millennials are more likely to use YouTube and Instagram for news than Millennials in general, though all groups rely heavily on Facebook.

African Americans, Hispanics, and Millennials in general all tend to get news about a somewhat different list of topics. For example, African Americans tend to follow lifestyle topics at higher rates than other Millennials; Hispanics tend to follow a somewhat different list of current events topics—as well as science and technology, the environment, and foreign affairs—at higher rates than African Americans.

In many other ways, however, African American and Hispanic Millennials are similar to the rest of their generation. And contrary to some earlier depictions about a “newsless” and infotainment-focused generation, Millennials are heavy news consumers and are highly focused on the world around them. And, Millennials across racial and ethnic groups use news in a variety of ways in their lives.

This new research, focused on the Millennial generation, reinforces 2014 Media Insight Project findings about adults overall, which found that the much-predicted “digital divide”—in which people of color would be left behind by not having digital connectivity—had not materialized in the way many had feared, at least when it comes to the news.

That study revealed that people across ethnic groups were connecting online in similar numbers, thanks in part to the advent of wireless and mobile technology. But the evidence also suggested that the promise that the web would offer underserved communities more diverse content had not been realized.

This new study looks more closely at the first natively digital generation of Americans, adults age 18-34. The additional analysis probes whether there are major differences between racial and ethnic groups within the Millennial generation, or if widespread access to digital technology has made these differences disappear. The findings suggest that overall access to news is similar across racial and ethnic groups, but that there are nuances in terms of how African American, Hispanic, and white Millennials get and use news.

Among the findings:

  • Facebook and search engines dominate the way Hispanics, African Americans, and whites alike get their news for a majority of topics, as opposed to going directly to news destinations as is more typical of older Americans.
  • Hispanics and African Americans are just as likely as Millennials in general to have paid news subscriptions.
  • In what may be a challenge to the stereotype of the Millennial generation that some harbor, only about half (51 percent) say they are almost always or mostly online and connected, and this is consistent across racial and ethnic groups.
  • Different ethnic groups do tend to spend their time differently online, however. Hispanic Millennials, in particular, are less likely to report playing games online than white Millennials (37 percent vs. 50 percent) or to pursue hobbies online (50 percent vs. 71 percent).
  • While YouTube and Instagram are more popular sources for getting news among Hispanic and African American Millennials, use of other platforms—such as Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest, and Tumblr—for news is similar across racial and ethnic groups.
  • Although Facebook is engrained in the news habits of Millennials (fully 81 percent across racial and ethnic groups say they get news and information from Facebook at least once a week), there is some variation in the motivations for using it between racial and ethnic groups. The most popular motivation for white Millennials is keeping up with friends’ lives, and they are more likely to say this is a main reason to use Facebook than are African American and Hispanic Millennials (74 percent vs. 62 percent and 55 percent). For African American and Hispanic Millennials, the top motivation is to get more information on something in the news.
  • Once they are logged in, Millennials across racial and ethnic groups tend to behave in similar ways on Facebook, at least in terms of engagement with the news, including reading, posting, and “liking” news stories.
  • Millennials across racial and ethnic groups follow different news topics. Of the 24 news and information topics the survey asked about, significant racial and ethnic differences emerged for nine.

Study methods

This study was conducted by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. A nationwide survey of 1,045 adults age 18-34 was conducted from January 5 through February 2, 2015. This includes 163 non-Hispanic African Americans and 162 Hispanics. Participants were recruited through a national probability telephone sample, and the main questionnaire was administered online.

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