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The Personal News Cycle: How Americans choose to get their news

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

Contrary to the conventional wisdom about media consumption dividing along generational or political lines, a new survey finds that the nature of the news itself — the topic and speed of the story — largely determines where people go to learn about events and the path they take to get there.

The findings also suggest that some long-held beliefs about people relying on just a few primary sources for news are now obsolete.

There are five devices or technologies that majorities of Americans use to get news in a given week. The average American adult uses four different devices or technologies for news.

In contrast to the idea that one generation tends to rely on print, another on television and still another the web, the majority of Americans across generations now combine a mix of sources and technologies to get their news each week, according to the survey by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Where people go for news, moreover, depends significantly on the topic of the story — whether it is sports or science, politics or weather, health or arts — and on the nature of the story — whether it is a fast-moving event, a slower-moving trend, or an issue that the person follows passionately.

The data also challenge another popular idea about the digital age, the notion that with limitless choices people follow only a few subjects in which they are interested and only from sources with which they agree — the idea of the so-called “filter bubble.”

There are relatively few differences by generation, party, or socioeconomic status in the level of interest with which people report following different topics.

These are some of the findings of the nationally representative telephone survey of 1,492 adults conducted from January 9 through February 16, 2014.

The data from the survey, which was designed to probe what adults distinguish most in their news consumption in the digital age, offer a portrait of Americans becoming increasingly comfortable using technology in ways that take advantage of the strengths of each medium and each device.

There are five devices or technologies that majorities of Americans use to get news in a given week. The average American adult uses four different devices or technologies for news.

Three-quarters of Americans get news at least daily, including 6 out of 10 adults under age 30.

Most Americans use many media devices for news

Most Americans use many media devices for news

Question: “Please tell me if you used each device or technology to get new in the last week, or if you did not.”

Nearly half of Americans with internet access have signed up for news alerts.

And the rapid growth in mobile technology is changing the mix. Among smartphone owners, 78 percent report using their device to get news in the last week. Seventy-three percent of tablet owners use their device to get news. And people with more devices tend to enjoy following the news more. News consumers who use more technology are more likely to report that they enjoy keeping up with the news and are more likely to say that it’s easier to keep up with the news today than it was five years ago.

At the same time, these tech-savvy news consumers continue to use traditional platforms as well. For example, they are no more or less likely than everyone else to use print publications, television, or radio to access the news.

But there is a strong correlation between mobile technology and social media and various other digital activities. Smartphone owners, for instance, are two and half times as likely to get news through social media as those without smartphones, twice as likely to use search engines and aggregators for news and to get news alerts, and more than twice as likely to share news. Patterns are similar for tablet owners as well.

Tech-savvy news consumers continue to use traditional platforms as well … They are no more or less likely than everyone else to use print publications, television, or radio to access the news.

Not only do people consume news from many different devices, nearly half say they have no one preferred means of doing so. Furthermore, people access different reporting sources on a regular basis. When asked about their use of eight different reporting sources in the last week, Americans report using an average of between four and five sources.

That contrasts starkly with the long-held idea that news habits are strictly ingrained and often limited to a few primary sources.

Similarly, there are only small differences across age, political party, or socioeconomic status in the news topics people follow. For example, the percentage of people who say they follow news about local affairs, business and the economy, health and medicine, schools and education, and social issues, among other topics, differs little by generation. And, even for topics where younger news consumers are less avid followers than their elders, they still report high levels of interest. Adults age 18–29, for instance, are less inclined than those 60 and over to follow news about national government (57 percent vs. 79 percent) or foreign affairs (59 percent vs. 79 percent overall), but majorities of both age groups still do so.

Interest in different news topics by age

Interest in different news topics by age

Question: Please tell me whether you personally try to keep up with news about each topic or not.
*Indicates a significant difference from the 18–29 age group.

Another striking finding is that how Americans seek out the news changes markedly with the subject matter. When asked where they go for news on each topic, people are most likely to use specialized sources now to learn about 4 of the 15 topics probed: sports, entertainment, science and technology, and lifestyle news. They are most likely to turn to local TV for weather, traffic, crime, and health news.

How Americans seek out the news changes markedly with the subject matter.

People turn to newspapers, whether in print or online, more than any other source specified, and in relatively high numbers for a wide range of topics (double-digit percentages for 11 of the 15 topics discussed). But they are most likely to turn to newspaper media for news about their local town or city, for news about arts and culture, and for news about schools and education.

The 24-hour cable channels, by contrast, have little draw for some topics — such as health, arts, sports, or science. But they are the source most often cited for four of the topics probed: politics, international news, business and the economy, and  social issues.

Americans’ reporting sources depend on the news topic

Americans’ reporting sources depend on the news topic

People prefer different types of sources for different types of coverage.

The survey sought to examine whether people distinguish between a reporting source — that is, the news organization that gathered the news — from the means by which they discovered the news — social media or a search engine, for instance — and what device they used — for example, print publications or smartphones. When asked to volunteer how they came to the news, people tend think less about the device than the news gathering source and the means of discovery (social media or search). Taken in combination, the findings suggest that people make conscious choices about where they get their news and how they get it, using whatever technology is convenient at the moment.

Overall, for instance, social media is becoming an important tool for people across all generations to discover news—but hardly the only one, even for the youngest adults. Fully 4 in 10 Americans say they got news in the last week from social media, through platforms such as Twitter or Facebook.

Social media is becoming an important tool for people across all generations to discover news — but hardly the only one, even for the youngest adults.

The use of social media does vary by age group: 7 in 10 adults under age 30 say they learned news through social media in the last week, 6 in 10 of those age 30-39, 4 in 10 age 40-59 and 1 in 5 for those 60 or older. Social media, in other words, has become a significant part of the news consumption habits for many Americans across generations.

Yet social media appears to be largely adding to, rather than replacing, other ways that people get news. At the same time that 4 in 10 now use social media, more than 80 percent of Americans say they also got news in the last week by going directly to a news organization in some manner—and that was consistent across generations.

Even for the youngest adults, age 18-29, social media and the web in general have hardly replaced more traditional ways of getting the news. Nearly half of the youngest adults also read news in print during the last week, 3 in 4 watched news on television, and just over half listened to it on the radio.

People also view these different ways of learning the news with varied levels of skepticism. Americans of all generations are nearly three times as likely to express high levels of trust about what they learn directly from a news organization (43 percent say they trust it mostly or completely) as they are to trust what they discovered through social media (15 percent of those who used it to get news say they had high levels of trust in what they learned). And those numbers about trust for different ways of discovering the news do not vary much by generation.

The survey also probed whether people learned about different kinds of stories — breaking news, for instance, versus slower-moving trends — differently, or whether they tend to rely on the same sources and platforms regardless of the type of story. Much as people tailor how they find out about news and their go-to sources depending on the topic, they also adjust their behavior for the type of news they are following. For example, half of news consumers recalling a breaking news story they followed recently said they first heard about it on TV. About half of the people following a breaking news story report actively trying to learn more about that breaking news story. At that point, however, more people turned to the internet to follow the story than TV.

TV news reporting organizations are the most common source mentioned across all types of news, but especially so for breaking news, with 61 percent noting some type of TV news organization — including cable news, local news, or broadcast networks — as the source where they first heard about the last breaking news story they followed. For slower-moving news, there is more diversity in go-to news sources, with more frequent mentions of newspapers and specialty media.

People across all generations are most likely to discover news by going directly to a news organization, rather than letting the news come to them … Hearing directly from the reporting source is preferred.

Patterns of news consumption also vary little by political affiliation. Partisans act more like each other in terms of attentiveness to the news relative to independents. But, partisans do differ from each other when it comes to the types of news reporting sources they say they trust. Democrats are more trusting of news from the three broadcast networks and the newswires, while Republicans are more trusting of news from cable.

The generational breakdowns do indicate the path of future change. Younger adults are more likely to find news through web-based media. Younger people are three times more likely to discover news through social media than adults age 60 and older. Similarly, people under 40 are more likely than those 40 and over to discover news through internet searches and online news aggregators.

But people across all generations are most likely to discover news by going directly to a news organization, rather than letting the news come to them. Younger adults are more likely to express a preference for social media as a means of discovery. Fully 13 percent of adults under age 30 cite social media as their preferred way to find news, compared to 3 percent or less for all other age groups. For all groups, however, hearing directly from the reporting source is preferred.

In other ways, gender is a more significant determinant of news habits than age. Women, for instance, are more likely to share news and get it through social media, and to follow news about schools and health and lifestyle. Men are more likely to watch cable news and follow different subjects, including sports and foreign affairs.

In addition, many of the broad findings discussed in this report hold true across racial and ethnic groups. Nearly 9 in 10 Americans across all ethnic groups get news at least several times a week and enjoy following the news at similar levels. In future reports, The Media Insight Project will be releasing more detailed analysis and new data about the personal news cycle of different ethnic groups, including a close look at ethnic news, as part of this research series.

About the study

Many traditional surveys about media consumption are tied to using questions that were designed in the 1960s and 1970s, a time when television was emerging to challenge print. While these questions are helpful for tracking change over time, they were designed in an era when people tended to have a primary source for news they relied on. Those traditional questions also struggle with trying to sort out whether Americans, when they use a medium like social media or the internet, distinguish between the technology device they are using (phone or tablet), the platform or means of discovery (such as search or social media), and the source (the organization or reporting body that they are seeking out). Do people notice, for instance, when they are online, whose content they are consuming? When they use social media, to what extent, if at all, do they discriminate which links they click on?

This survey was designed to probe these questions and others.

When do people consume news today? Do they consume breaking news differently than they do slower-moving trend topics? After people hear about something happening, to what extent do they try to learn more? If they do, where do they go and how do they navigate there?

And to what extent does the topic of the news—say weather versus technology—alter how people consume news now that the consumer is largely in control?

To address these questions, the survey utilized a unique approach to investigating news-gathering habits. For each news topic (e.g., business news vs. traffic and weather) or type (e.g., breaking news, slow-moving trends, and news people feel passionately about), we asked respondents to tell us how they generally follow news about that topic. All verbatim responses were collected and then coded by the research team. Every response was coded along three dimensions:

  • Device categorized the coded mentions of the device or technology the respondent used to get news. For example, watching TV, listening to the radio, reading the print version of a newspaper, or reading an article on a smartphone.
  • Discovery method categorized the coded mentions of how the respondent found the news regardless of the device used. For example, hearing it directly from a news organization, seeing it on social media, or hearing about it through word-of-mouth.
  • Source categorized the coded mentions of the organization that gathered the information and did the news reporting. For example, reporting done by local TV news stations, newspapers, online-only news sites like The Huffington Post, or magazines like Time.

Additionally, if a respondent did not mention one of these dimensions in their response about how they generally follow news, the dimension was coded as “no specific mention.” This coding scheme allowed the research team not only to quantify how people do get their news, but also to describe how people think about the news consumption and what dimensions are most salient in different news contexts.

One of the reasons for this approach is that it is less clear, now that people have so many choices, what consumers pay attention to when seeking out news. This has led to confusion in past data about what was meant by a news source versus a news platform, and it has made interpreting the data more difficult.

These distinctions are not only important for trying to understand behavior. They also are important to publishers who are trying to find the best ways to reach their audiences. They also matter to brand advertisers trying to figure out how to reach customers.

The margin of error for this telephone survey of 1,492 adults is +/- 3.6 percentage points. Interviews were completed with respondents on landlines and cell phones.

Section 2: How Americans get their news

Americans are accessing the news throughout the day and across devices

For many Americans, keeping up with the news is an activity that occurs throughout the day and across different formats, devices, and technologies. When asked when they prefer to watch, read, or hear news, a plurality (33 percent) report following the news all throughout the day. A smaller but sizable number of Americans continue to prefer to follow the news in the morning (24 percent) and in the evening (26 percent), while still lesser numbers say they most often get news in the afternoon (4 percent) and right before bed (9 percent).

People who own and use more devices are no more or less likely to use print publications, television, or radio to access the news.

Is there a particular time that people go for more in-depth news, beyond the headlines? Overall, 4 in 10 Americans report that they delved deeper into a particular news subject beyond the headlines in the last week. When they did, that in-depth reading, watching, or listening followed a similar pattern to news consumption generally, with a plurality (34 percent) saying there is no particular time they prefer to read in-depth news. That finding challenges the notion that while Americans may get headlines continuously, they reserve the evening for learning more.

In addition, a slightly larger number, 49 percent of adults, said they delved deeper to learn more about the last breaking news story they paid attention to, though time of day was not probed for this, given that news may break at any time.

Questions: People can watch, read, or hear in-depth news stories at different times of the day. Would you say you mostly watch, read or hear in-depth stories, beyond the headlines...in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, the last thing at night, or all throughout the day? In general, would you say you prefer to watch, read or hear news in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, the last thing at night, or all throughout the day?

Time of day when people get their news

Questions: People can watch, read, or hear in-depth news stories at different times of the day. Would you say you mostly watch, read or hear in-depth stories, beyond the headlines…in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, the last thing at night, or all throughout the day?
In general, would you say you prefer to watch, read or hear news in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, the last thing at night, or all throughout the day?

Americans follow the news on a wide variety of devices, including through television, radio, print versions of newspapers and magazines, computers, cell phones, tablets, e-readers, and devices such as an Xbox or Playstation that link the internet to a television. Americans on average reported that, during the past week, they followed the news using four different devices or technologies. The most frequently utilized devices include television (87 percent), laptops/computers (69 percent), radio (65 percent), and print newspapers or magazines (61 percent).

Question: Please tell me if you used each device or technology to get new in the last week, or if you did not.

Most Americans use many media devices for news

Question: Please tell me if you used each device or technology to get new in the last week, or if you did not.

Among all adult Americans, 56 percent reported using a cell phone and 29 percent reported using a tablet to access news in the last week. (That represents 78 percent of the 69 percent Americans who own a smartphone, and 73 percent of the 39 percent of Americans who own or use a tablet device).

Only 10 percent of Americans reported using an e-reader to get their news in the last week and 11 percent reported using a Smart TV to follow the news in the last week.

Traditional media remain important even for those Americans with the most gadgets. People who own and use more devices are no more or less likely to use print publications, television, or radio to access the news. For example, 62 percent of people who use only one internet enabled device say they used the print version of a publication to get news in the last week, as do 60 percent of those who use three or more mobile devices.

Many Americans prefer to receive news across devices, using whatever device or technology is most convenient when they want to follow the news.

However, as the number of devices a person owns increases, they are more likely to report that they enjoy keeping up with the news and are more likely to say that it’s easier to keep up with the news today than it was five years ago.

In addition to asking Americans about all the devices they use to get the news, the survey asked what device or technology people prefer most. Television was most popular (24 percent), followed by desktop or laptop computer (12 percent), cell phone (12 percent), and tablet computer (4 percent).

The largest group, 45 percent of Americans indicate that they have no preference in the device or technology they use to follow the news. This suggests that many Americans prefer to receive news across devices, using whatever device or technology is most convenient when they want to follow the news.

People use a number of different tools to find out about the news, but trust some more than others

Regardless of the device used, people find or discover news through different means—from old- fashioned word-of-mouth to electronic alerts and social media. The survey reveals that most Americans are discovering news in more than one way. More than half of all Americans report using between three and five methods of discovery to find out about the news (the average across all respondents was between three and four different methods in the last week [mean =3.8]).

The most popular way that Americans report finding their news is directly from a news organization, such as a newspaper, TV newscast, website, or newswire (88 percent). People continue to discover news through traditional word-of- mouth (65 percent) either in person or over the phone, and do so at higher rates than more modern methods of sharing like email, text message, or other ways online (46 percent), or social media (44 percent). And roughly half of Americans said they got news in the last week from search engines and online news aggregators (51 percent for each).

Question: Did you find news in any of the following ways in the last week, or did you not find news in that way?

How people discovered news in the last week

Question: Did you find news in any of the following ways in the last week, or did you not find news in that way?

But while Americans are discovering news through a variety of means, they are discriminating in how much trust they have in the information they get from each method.

Americans trust the news they hear directly from news-gathering organizations, with 43 percent of people saying they trust the information acquired this way either very much or completely, 44 percent saying they trust it moderately, and 13 percent saying they only trust it slightly or not at all.

Question: How much do you trust the information you get from...?

People’s trust in different ways of discovering the news

Question: How much do you trust the information you get from…?

Between discovering news through aggregators or search engines, Americans who use them say they have more faith in search engines. In all, 32 percent who get news via search say they trust the information they provide either very much or completely compared to just 24 percent who use news aggregators.

And generally, levels of trust in the news discovered through sharing — either verbally or electronically — are low. Just 27 percent say they trust a good deal (very much or completely) the information they receive through electronic sharing with friends, and 21 percent have similar levels of trust for information they receive by word-of-mouth.

Similarly, while social media is becoming an important means of discovering news, even those who use it bring some skepticism to it. Only 15 percent of adults who get news through social media say they have high levels of trust in information they get from that means of discovery. Social media and word-of-mouth are the least-trusted means of discovering the news, with 37 percent of those who got news this way in the last week mistrusting or trusting only slightly social media and 33 percent mistrusting word-of-mouth.

Levels of trust in the news discovered through sharing — either verbally or electronically — are low.

Less than one-third (31 percent) of Americans report that they discovered the news in the last week through electronic news alerts or subscriptions they’ve signed up for (more Americans, 47 percent, report that they ever receive news alerts through text, email, or apps), but they trust this information at higher rates (50 percent) than any other discovery method. Most people who get news from electronic news alerts (92 percent) also report getting information directly from news organizations that report the news.

The survey data also show the powerful connection between the growth in mobile internet technology and social media. Those adults with a cell phone that connects to the internet are much more likely than those without one to find news through social media (56 percent vs. 22 percent).

Similarly, adults with smartphones are also much more likely than non-mobile users to get news through search engines (61 percent vs. 31 percent); online news aggregators (61 percent vs. 33 percent); sharing with friends via email, text, or other online methods (54 percent vs. 29 percent); and electronic news alerts (38 percent vs. 19 percent). Similar patterns emerged for owners or users of tablets. Tablet owners are also more likely to report discovering news through social media, search engines, online news aggregators, electronic communications with friends, and news alerts than people who don’t own tablets.

More than 6 in 10 Americans say they prefer getting news directly from a news organization compared with any other way.

For the most part, mobile users are not more likely than non-users to trust electronic means of discovering the news. Levels of trust in social media, search engines, electronic communications with friends, and news alerts are similar between users and non-users. The one exception is that smartphone owners are more likely than non-owners to say they trust news from online aggregators (27 percent vs. 17 percent).

While people use different media for news each week, and only half express a preference for a device, most Americans do care about the means of discovery, or where they first hear the news. More than 6 in 10 Americans (61 percent) say they prefer getting news directly from a news organization compared with any other way.

That preference dwarfs all other discovery methods. Every other means of discovering the news was preferred by fewer than 1 in 10 adults, with search engines (7 percent), online publishers that mostly combine news from other sources (7 percent), and social media (4 percent), in order of preference.

Similarly, while Americans cite electronic news alerts as a highly trusted method of discovering the news, only 3 percent volunteer news alerts as their most preferred way to discover the news. (Notably, nearly everyone, 92 percent, who gets news from electronic news alerts also reports getting news directly from news organizations.) Word-of-mouth in person or over the phone (2 percent) and sharing news with friends through email, text message, or other ways online (1 percent) are cited by very few Americans as their most preferred way to get their news.

Question: Of these ways that you find news, which way do you prefer the most?

How people prefer to find news

Question: Of these ways that you find news, which way do you prefer the most?

People are discriminating in terms of the source of the news and whose news they trust

Beyond the way in which Americans discover the news and the devices they use to access it, people also have choices in the source of their news — the type of news organization doing the reporting that they turn to. And, when it comes to who does the reporting, Americans don’t tend to rely on a single source.

The survey finds that the average American recalled getting their news from between four and five of eight different types of news sources in the last week (mean = 4.56). And, similar to the way they discover news, news consumers discriminate between reporting sources in terms of their level of trust.

Television news organizations are the most popular news source for Americans. Whether from the TV broadcast or the station’s website, 93 percent of Americans say they used some kind a TV news operation as a source of news in the last week.

Among the different types of TV news, more Americans (82 percent) turn to their local TV news stations either through the TV broadcast or online than another other type. Sizeable majorities also cite the three national network broadcast news operations (73 percent) in their various forms and 24-hour cable news channels (62 percent) — such as Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC — as sources of news, either on television or digitally.

A majority of Americans also cite newspaper content in its various forms (66 percent) and radio-based news reporting sources (56 percent) as news sources they accessed in the past week.

Slightly less than half of Americans (47 percent) say they used online-only reporting sources such as Yahoo! News, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, or other blogs in the last week. Thirty-seven percent report using magazines — print or online — as a source of news in the last week. And, a third of Americans say they now get news from wire services such as The Associated Press (AP) or Reuters, something that was not easy to do directly before the internet.

Question: Did you watch, read, or hear news from the following types of news reporting sources in the last week, or not?

What news sources people encounter to each week

Question: Did you watch, read, or hear news from the following types of news reporting sources in the last week, or not?

Yet people have varying levels of trust in these different sources, and, for the most part, only about half or less of Americans say they very much or completely trust any of these sources.

Overall, Americans report that they trust the information they get from local TV news stations to a greater degree than any other source of news, with 52 percent who seek out local TV news saying that they trust the information very much or completely. At similar levels, 51 percent of those who use the newswires say they trust them, 48 percent trust radio news, and 47 percent trust newspapers and the three broadcast networks, NBC, ABC, and CBS. Forty-four percent of those who use cable news say they have a high level of trust in it. Users of magazines (print or online) as a source of news report slightly more modest levels of trust (40 percent completely or very much).

Online-only sources of the news such as Yahoo! News, BuzzFeed, or The Huffington Post, and blogs garner lower levels of trust. One in 4 users of these news sources say they trust them completely or very much, while 1 in 5 users say they trust them only slightly or not at all.

Question: How much do you trust the information you get from...?

Levels of trust in different news sources

Question: How much do you trust the information you get from…?

Contrary to the idea that people now tend to trust news sources that share their point of view, taken together the findings suggest that rates of trust are highest for news operations that have less editorial opinion built into their model, such as local television news and wire services.

Again the findings suggest that news consumers with a plethora of choices are discriminating — utilizing sources that fit their habits. For instance, Americans who report that they watch, read, or hear the news at least once a day are more likely than others to cite a 24-hour TV news channel as a reporting source they use (67 percent vs. 50 percent). Daily news consumers are also more likely than others to cite getting news from radio news organizations (60 percent vs. 47 percent) and newswires such as AP or Reuters (37 percent vs. 21 percent).

News consumers with a plethora of choices are discriminating — utilizing sources that fit their habits.

Further, cable news consumers are also more likely to say they get news “throughout the day” rather than at defined times of day. Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) of cable news consumers say they prefer to watch, read, or hear the news throughout the day, significantly higher than those who say “in the morning” (58 percent), “in the evening” (56 percent), or “the last thing at night” (51 percent). Similarly, those who get news from newswires such as AP or Reuters tend to be continuous news consumers (42 percent throughout the day vs. 32 percent in the morning, 25 percent in the evening, and 26 percent last thing at night).

Mobile technology, similarly, correlates with heavier use of non-traditional sources. People with a smartphone are much more likely than those who do not have smartphones to say they get news from online-only sources like Yahoo! News, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, or other blogs (58 percent vs. 26 percent). Mobile news consumers are also more likely than others to say they get news directly from newswires such as the AP or Reuters (36 percent vs. 27 percent).

Section 3: The rational and attentive news consumer

Americans are discriminating news consumers whose habits vary by topic

In contrast to the idea that in the era of digital plenty people only follow news relating to a few matters about which they are really passionate, Americans consume news about a wide variety of subjects. In general, larger numbers of Americans report following current events and “news you can use” topics than follow news about entertainment and leisure.

Newspapers are the most popular source of news about one’s local town or city, art and culture, and schools and education.

Of all subjects covered by the survey, the most-followed is traffic and weather: 84 percent of respondents say they “try to keep up” with news about them. Two-thirds or more say they follow news about the environment and natural disasters, about their local town or city, national government and politics, business and the economy, crime and public safety, foreign or international issues, and health and medicine.

Fewer Americans report keeping up on leisure topics such as sports; lifestyle subjects such as food, exercise, or parenting; entertainment and celebrities; and art and culture.

Question: Please tell me whether you, personally, try to keep up with news about each topic or not.

Most Americans are following news on a range of topics

Question: Please tell me whether you, personally, try to keep up with news about each topic or not.

The survey also tried to find out the degree to which Americans distinguish how they get news on different topics. Once again, respondents were asked if they could recall the device they usually used, the method they used to discover the news (i.e., through search, from social media, directly from the news organization, etc.), and what type of news source. Respondents were not given a defined list of answers; rather, they were asked to volunteer an answer of their own.

The most often-cited reporting source that consumers mention varies by topic. Newspapers are the most popular source of news about one’s local town or city (37 percent), art and culture (28 percent), and schools and education (21 percent). Newspapers also rank close to cable news as a source for news about business and the economy (15 percent).

Local TV news stations are the most popular source for news about crime and public safety (40 percent), traffic and weather (32 percent), and health and medicine (12 percent).

A significant majority of Americans not only identify the reporting sources they encounter, they also prefer different ones for different subjects.

People are also turning to specialized news sources for some topics, ahead of traditional sources. For instance, specialty news sources are the most commonly mentioned source for news about sports (38 percent), entertainment (22 percent), lifestyle news (14 percent), and science and technology (10 percent).

Twenty-four hour news sources are most popular for news about foreign or international issues (31 percent), national government and politics (28 percent), social issues (24 percent), and business and the economy (21 percent).

Some people simply cite television as a source, not mentioning whether they mean cable, local, or network.

Indeed, television, unspecified, was the most popular news source mentioned about the environment and natural disasters (23 percent) and was also mentioned as often as local TV for news about health and medicine (12 percent). That number may suggest that, particularly for natural disasters, which tend to be visual stories, many people turn on the television to see them, not necessarily mindful or concerned about who the reporting source is. In the age of shared, syndicated video, the images may even all be the same.

The survey also found that a significant majority of Americans not only identify the reporting sources they encounter, they also prefer different ones for different subjects. Indeed, across all topics, an average of only 18 percent of news consumers do not mention a reporting source at all when asked where they go for news about a given topic.

Question: Where do you usually go for news about this topic?

Americans’ sources for news vary by topic

Question: Where do you usually go for news about this topic?

Again, Americans are less likely to specify the device they use than the specific type of news organization they encounter. To a large extent, people mention either television or online if they mention a device at all. But overall, television carries the day. Television is especially popular for obtaining news about crime and public safety (55 percent), traffic and weather (48 percent), and sports (47 percent).

Digital devices trump television for several topics, including science and technology news (46 percent for online vs. 22 percent for television); health and medicine (40 percent vs. 31 percent); social issues like abortion, race, and gay rights (40 percent vs. 26 percent); lifestyle topics such as food, exercise, or parenting (36 percent vs. 24 percent); and art and culture (36 percent vs. 20 percent). On the internet, the most common news source that people mention using for these topics is online-only sources like Yahoo! News and The Huffington Post as compared with the websites of television stations, newspapers, or specialty news organizations.

People are more likely to cite a diversity of devices for getting news about traffic and weather than any other topic. Fifteen percent of Americans who follow traffic and weather report getting that news on their cell phones, while almost as many, 12 percent, report listening to it on the radio. Less than 1 in 10 of these same people specifically mentions using a cell phone, radio, or other device such as a tablet for all other topics.

Indeed, for many topics, device does not seem to be the first thing that comes to mind when people are asked to describe their news habits. Substantial proportions of consumers, 28 percent on average, do not mention a device when asked how they get news on a given subject. And there are some specific news topics (news about one’s local town or city, business and economy, and international events) where pluralities of Americans do not mention a device at all.

* Most common among respondents who mentioned a source, device, or discovery method.

Types of news that Americans follow and how they get their news

* Most common among respondents who mentioned a source, device, or discovery method.

Americans are more conscious of the path they use to discover the news on a given subject—whether it was via social media, internet search, by going directly to a news organization’s content, or some other means. For all news topics, a plurality say they most often go directly to a news organization. For all topics except two—lifestyle, and science and technology—the majority specify going directly to news organizations.

Certain discovery methods are less popular overall, although their popularity varies by topic. Search engines are the most commonly mentioned means for finding news about science and technology (16 percent), health and medicine (14 percent), and lifestyle topics (12 percent). Mobile apps are very rarely reported for most topics, but they are used by nearly 1 in 10 (9 percent) for traffic and weather news. Social media is also a rare discovery method, but it is most commonly cited for news about social issues (7 percent), entertainment and celebrities (6 percent), and art and culture (6 percent).

Overall, Americans are attentive to news and follow different types, including breaking news, topics of personal interest, and slow-moving trends

Almost all Americans report that they pay attention to the news on a daily or weekly basis. Fully 76 percent of Americans report watching, reading, or hearing the news on a daily basis; another 14 percent report watching, reading, or hearing the news several times per week; and only 10 percent say weekly or less.

Fewer Americans invest additional time into following the news more in-depth. The survey asked people about going in-depth for news two different ways. It asked whether people generally tried to get news in-depth on any subject in the last week. It also asked, when they recalled a breaking news story they followed in the last week, whether they had tried to find out more about it after initially learning of it.

The people who delve deeper on general news are not the same as those who do more in-depth follow-up of breaking news.

Overall, 41 percent of Americans report that they watched, read, or heard any in-depth news stories, beyond the headlines, in the last week. Slightly more people, 49 percent, report that they invested additional time to delve deeper and follow up on the last breaking news story they followed.

Interestingly, the people who delve deeper on general news are not the same as those who do more in-depth follow-up of breaking news. Among those who say they generally attend to news beyond the headlines, only just over half (54 percent) say they did so to learn more about the last breaking news story they followed (while 46 percent did not). And as described in Section 5 of this report, age is a significant predictor of the type of news people attend to in-depth. Yet contrary to what some might expect, younger adults are more likely to recall specifically going in-depth on breaking news than older adults. Older adults are more likely to say they follow up on news in general.

Questions: In the last week, did you watch, read, or hear any in-depth news stories, beyond the headlines, or not? Did you try to find out more about that breaking news story, or not? [Asked of the 85% who recently followed breaking news.]

Fewer Americans pay in-depth attention to the news

Questions: In the last week, did you watch, read, or hear any in-depth news stories, beyond the headlines, or not?
Did you try to find out more about that breaking news story, or not? [Asked of the 85% who recently followed breaking news.]

For all that, the vast majority of Americans, 88 percent, say they enjoy keeping up with the news, either a lot or at least some, with a majority (55 percent) in the highest category. Just 12 percent say they don’t enjoy keeping up with the news much or at all.

Question: In general, how much do you enjoy keeping up with the news?

A majority of Americans enjoy keeping up with the news

Question: In general, how much do you enjoy keeping up with the news?

To try to probe how people get news today, the survey asked people to recall the last breaking news story they followed, and then it tracked how they did it.

The vast majority of Americans, 85 percent, recalled the last breaking news story they watched, read, or heard about as it unfolded, while 14 percent could not, and less than 1 percent of Americans said they do not pay attention to breaking news stories.

The types of breaking news stories that Americans recalled following varied. The survey was conducted largely in January and two weeks of February of 2014. During that time, there were several breaking news stories, including a political scandal involving New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a nearly nationwide winter weather event, the run-up to the Winter Olympics, a school shooting in New Mexico, and a large chemical spill in West Virginia.

Twenty-three percent of Americans who recalled the last breaking news story they paid attention to named a political news story, the biggest two being the Chris Christie bridge scandal (13 percent) and news about the Benghazi attack and subsequent fallout (2 percent). Another 21 percent said the last breaking news story they paid attention to was weather related, led by the January 2014 polar vortex (8 percent) and the California wildfires (2 percent). And 16 percent of Americans said the last breaking news story they paid attention to was a national crime story such as the New Mexico school shooting that took place in January 2014 (1 percent).

Other types of breaking news stories that Americans mentioned pertained to a local news event (11 percent), sports news (9 percent), international news (8 percent), general national news (8 percent), and entertainment news (4 percent).

Question: What is the last breaking news story that you watched, read, or heard about?

Types of breaking news events Americans recently followed

Question: What is the last breaking news story that you watched, read, or heard about?

And where did people go for breaking news? Half of news consumers who named a breaking news story say they first heard about it from television. About half of those (49 percent of adults) then tried to learn more. Few stuck with television. A majority moved to the web (using a number of devices) rather than continuing to follow the story on television (59 percent vs. 18 percent).

When it comes to following up on breaking news, fewer Americans report hearing the news directly from a news organization, and more Americans discover breaking news through user-controlled means. In all, 45 percent seeking more information about a breaking news story said they discovered the news directly from a news organization, fewer than for any other kind of news. Although the means people used to discover more about a breaking news story varied, generally people made more use of the aggregation and search capabilities of the web for breaking news than for other kinds. In all, 12 percent said they used search, 12 percent said unspecified websites, and 10 percent mentioned online news aggregators.

Still, when they finally landed somewhere, even when it came to breaking news people said they tended to go to news reporting sources that had some history or legacy in traditional media. In all, 37 percent said they went to a TV-based reporting organization (13 percent local TV news, 12 percent cable, 1 percent a national broadcast station, and 11 percent unspecified). Another 9 percent said they went to newspaper-based reporting organizations. Ten percent said they went to online-only sources, and 8 percent to specialized media sources, some legacy and some online-only.

The survey also probed two other kinds of stories beyond breaking news: how people followed news about topics that they were particularly passionate about—to see whether intensity of interest altered behavior—and how they got news about other slower-moving trends, such as the economy or the environment, even if those topics were not ones that they were particularly passionate about. The approach was an experiment above all, to see if there were distinctions between the three kinds of news: breaking, slow-moving, and passion topics.

Nearly all Americans follow slower-moving news trends (94 percent) and news related to topics that they are passionate about (95 percent). The topics people are most passionate about vary widely, with no one topic exceeding 21 percent. The list is led by politics and government, local town news, traffic and weather, and business and sports.

Question: Thinking about the types of news that you do pay attention to, what is a topic that you are really passionate about?

News topics Americans are most passionate about

Question: Thinking about the types of news that you do pay attention to, what is a topic that you are really passionate about?

In general, people show some consistent news-gathering habits across types and some customized behaviors depending on the type of news they are following. Much the way people tailor how they find out about news and their go-to sources for the news topic they follow, they also adjust their behavior for the type of news they follow.

Averaging across all topics, when it comes to how consumers follow news they feel passionately about, their news-gathering habits are similar to those for following slower-moving news trends. In both cases, TV and the internet (across devices) are the most common platforms for this type of news. Like other types of news, most people report discovering the news they feel passionately about directly from a news organization.

However, looking specifically at the news topics that people feel passionately about, the data suggest that their habits are shaped by the topic more than the intensity or the speed of the news. The most common go-to news sources for the topics they feel passionately about mirror those mentioned for following different topics regardless of intensity. For example, cable news is the most commonly mentioned source for news on national government and politics, and newspapers are the most commonly mentioned source for schools and education among those who follow that topic passionately and among those who follow that news generally. The same patterns hold true across device and discovery—the topic is more closely related to news-gathering habits than the speed of the news or the intensity with which it is followed.

The most common sources are the same in most cases.

Consumers rely on the same news sources to follow topics regardless of intensity

The most common sources are the same in most cases.

Across all news types, people most often discover news directly from a news organization. Fast-paced, breaking news is also discovered by word-of-mouth. When people who don’t go directly to a news organization are following up on breaking news or looking for news on slower-moving stories, they tend toward online means, including news websites, search engines, and online news aggregators.

Devices, discovery methods and reporting sources vary for different kinds of news.

How Americans find out about different types of news

Devices, discovery methods and reporting sources vary for different kinds of news.

Consumers think more about the reporting source and means of discovery than they do about the device

As with news in general, even on fast-moving events, people are more inclined to remember the news reporting sources from which they sought the information and how they found it rather than the device they used. More than 85 percent of people can describe the news source they turned to first for the last breaking news story they remember and for slower-moving trends they follow in the news, and on average 82 percent can name the specific type of news source they turn to most often on any given topic. Similarly, more than 80 percent of people can identify the means they used to discover (search vs. social vs. going straight to a news provider) breaking news, news trends, or news on different topics. But far fewer can name the devices used. More than a quarter cannot name a device they generally used to follow any trend or topic, on average.

When devices are named, television still reigns, though less so among younger adults (see additional detail in Section 5). And this holds true regardless of the type of news: television is the most popular device for breaking news stories, passionate topics, or trend news, as well as roughly half of the specific news topics covered in this survey, and particularly for topics that are time sensitive, such as crime and public safety, traffic and weather, natural disasters, politics, and sports.

Where television’s hold is less secure is both among younger adults in general and in two other circumstances: when people are looking for more information about a breaking news story and for some topics that may be less time sensitive, such as science and technology, health and medicine, social issues, lifestyle topics, and art and culture. In all of these instances, again, people are more inclined to turn to the devices that access the web.

Once again, beyond the technology or device, a majority of Americans say they get news directly from news organizations regardless of the kind of story (fast or slow- moving) or the topic. But more avid news consumers are more likely than others to seek out news organizations directly. Fully 61 percent of those who say they enjoy keeping up with the news say they learned about the last big breaking news story directly from news organizations, versus 43 percent of those who don’t enjoy the news that much, more of whom learned about it in a less direct fashion. Less avid news consumers, in turn, are more likely to cite friends, colleagues, and family members as the way they discover breaking news (14 percent for the least avid vs. 4 percent for the most avid news consumers).

The less-active news consumers are more likely to rely on social media or word-of-mouth to hear about breaking news.

How avid news consumers discover breaking news

The less-active news consumers are more likely to rely on social media or word-of-mouth to hear about breaking news.

Section 4: Perceptions of the current news environment

Most Americans believe it is easier to keep up with the news today than it was five years ago

For a majority of Americans, the digital age is making following the news easier. Fully 60 percent feel that it is much or somewhat easier to keep up with the news than it was five years ago. Another 27 percent of Americans say there is no real difference, and 12 percent feel it is harder.

Question: Compared to 5 years ago, is it easier or harder to keep up with the news, or is there no real difference?

Most Americans feel it is easier to keep up with the news these days

Question: Compared to 5 years ago, is it easier or harder to keep up with the news, or is there no real difference?

Most Americans do not pay for their news, and those who do tend to purchase print media

Only 26 percent of Americans report that they currently pay for one or more news subscriptions. Americans who do pay for news have, on average, two different subscriptions, and they are most likely to pay for print newspapers and magazines. Among these paying subscribers, 64 percent say they subscribe to a newspaper, 44 percent to a print magazine, 40 percent to online access to a newspaper, 23 percent to a magazine website, 16 percent for a tablet app for news, and 15 percent report having a paid phone app.

There is a correlation between enjoying the news, along with frequency of consuming it, and also paying for it. People who say they enjoy following the news “a lot” are twice as likely to pay for a subscription as those who don’t (33 percent vs. 16 percent). And people who read, watch, or hear the news at least once a day are also about twice as likely to pay for a news subscription as those who get the news on a weekly basis (29 percent vs. 16 percent).

Some key demographic factors are also related to the likelihood of paying for news subscriptions, including age, race/ethnicity, and education. Fully 40 percent of Americans age 60 or older report having a paid news subscription compared with 20 percent of those under 60. Among whites, 31 percent report having at least one paid subscription compared to 16 percent of African Americans and 11 percent of Hispanics. Finally, while 36 percent of Americans with at least a college education report having a paid news subscription, 21 percent of high school graduates and 12 percent of those with less than a high school education report having a paid subscription.

Question: Do you currently have a paid subscription that includes access to..., or not?

When people pay for news, it is most likely for print subscriptions

Question: Do you currently have a paid subscription that includes access to…, or not?

Section 5: Social and demographic differences in habits and attitudes

Young people are active news consumers, with particular attentiveness to breaking news

The survey data provide a broad challenge to the notion that younger adults in the digital age 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 high news consumers. But there are some important differences by age.

While younger people may be slightly less attentive to news on a daily basis, they are more attentive to breaking news.

Americans age 60 and over are somewhat more likely than the youngest adults, age 18-29, to say they enjoy keeping up with the news, although significant majorities of both groups do so (93 percent for those age 60 plus vs. 83 percent for those age 18-29). It follows then, that older Americans watch, read, or hear the news more often than the youngest cohort. Adults age 18-29 (59 percent) are significantly less likely than adults age 30-39 (75 percent), 40-59 (77 percent), and 60 and older (89 percent) to say they consume news at least once a day. But again, for majorities across all age groups, news consumption is a daily habit.

Older adults are also more likely to report reading, watching, or hearing a news story in-depth in the last week. Fully 54 percent of adults age 60 and over said they’d done so compared to just 1 in 4 young people 18-29, a third of adults 30-39, and 43 percent of those 40-59.

But while younger people may be slightly less attentive to news on a daily basis, they are more attentive to breaking news. Indeed, the youngest adults are more than twice as likely (55 percent) to follow up in-depth on breaking news as they are to report going in-depth in the last week on any news story (25 percent). Adults age 60 and over are less likely to report going in-depth on breaking news than on news generally.

Young people are more likely to look for deeper information about breaking news.

Paying in-depth attention to the news by age and type of news

Young people are more likely to look for deeper information about breaking news.

Young people are attentive to a range of news topics at rates similar to older adults

Age does not impact people’s attentiveness to various news topics. Even the youngest adults are as likely to pay attention to news on topics such as business, politics, social issues, and foreign affairs as older adults. Further, they are no more likely than older adults to follow news on lifestyle topics.

Entertainment news is the only topic followed by a majority of younger people and a minority of older people. The only topic on which less than a majority of the youngest adults (49 percent) say they are likely to follow that a majority of older adults follow is schools and education. Even if one thinks that people are inclined to overstate their interest in some of these subjects, the difference in age groups, or the lack thereof, is revealing.

Question: Please tell me whether you personally try to keep up with news about each topic or not. * Indicates a significant difference from the 18–29 age group.

Interest in different news topics by age

Question: Please tell me whether you personally try to keep up with news about each topic or not.
* Indicates a significant difference from the 18-29 age group.

The digital divide persists when it comes to news habits

While younger Americans are interested in a wide variety of topics at levels similar to older generations, the device they turn to and the way they discover the news is more clearly influenced by age.

Older adults are more likely to rely on television, radio, and print media for their news than are those in the youngest adult cohort, who are more likely to use mobile devices. However, more traditional devices are still important for younger adult news habits, too. Adults age 18-29 are equally as likely to get news from TV as from their cell phones. And there are distinct differences in the habits of those ages 18-29 from those who are age 30-39. For instance, adults 30-39 are as likely to utilize TV as their computers or their phones. The younger age cohort is less likely to use computers. Print publications are still used by nearly half of young adults 18-29 and just over half of adults 30-39 (47 percent and 55 percent, respectively).

Older generations are more likely to get news from television. Fully 89 percent of those age 40-59 and even more (95 percent) of those 60 plus used television to get news in the past week compared with younger adults age 18-29 (76 percent) and 30-39 (79 percent).

Radio is most popular among adults age 40-59; 74 percent say they used it to get news in the past week, significantly more than the 53 percent of 18-29 year olds, 59 percent of 30-39 year olds, and 64 percent of adults age 60 and over who say they used radio to get news in the past week.

All Americans get news in print in significant numbers each week, but there are differences by age. Three-quarters of adults age 60 and over say they read print publications in the past week versus 61 percent of adults age 40-59, 55 percent of adults age 30-39, and 47 percent of adults age 18-29.

The majority of Americans use computers (desktop and laptop) to get news. Seventy-three percent of adults age 18-29 got news this way in the past week compared with 82 percent of adults age 30-39 and 69 percent of adults age 40-59; meanwhile, 61 percent of adults age 60 and over say they did so.

Young adults are significantly more likely than older adults to say they used their cell phone to get news in the last week. Seventy-six percent of adults age 18-29 who own a cell phone and 84 percent of adults age 30-39 who own a cell phone say they used it to get news in the past week, while just 59 percent of adults age 40-59 and 37 percent of adults age 60 and over say they did so.

Among those who use tablets, no significant differences exist among age cohorts in the likelihood of people using those devices to read news; however, younger people are now more likely to own tablets in the first place. And of those who own or use a tablet, they are very likely to use them for news. Seventy-two percent of 18-29-year-old tablet owners used them to get news in the past week, about the same rate of use as 30-39 year olds (74 percent) and 40-59 year olds (75 percent), and a little higher than tablet owners who are 60 plus (65 percent).

Similarly, younger adults are more likely to find news through web-based media. Younger people age 18-29 are more than three times as likely to discover news through social media than adults 60 and older (71 percent vs. 21 percent). A majority of 30-39 year olds also discover news through social media (64 percent), as do 41 percent of 40-59 year olds. Similarly, people under 40 are more likely than those 40 and over to discover news through internet searches and online news aggregators.

Across all age groups, the preferred method for discovering the news is directly from a news organization; however, younger people are more likely to express a preference for social media as a means of discovery. Thirteen percent of 18-29 year olds cite social media as their preferred way to find news compared to 3 percent or less for all other age groups.

Nearly half of adults under age 40 own tablets. Most owners in all age groups use them for news.

Tablet ownership and use for news by age

Nearly half of adults under age 40 own tablets. Most owners in all age groups use them for news.

Levels of attention and enjoyment in following the news are consistent across racial and ethnic groups

Many of the broad findings discussed in this report hold true across racial and ethnic groups.

For example, interest in the news is equally high across ethnic groups, with 91 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 86 percent of African Americans, 87 percent of Hispanics, and 92 percent of people in other ethnicities reporting that they attend to the news several times a week or more. Similarly, levels of enjoyment in following the news are consistently high across racial and ethnic groups.

The Media Insight Project will be releasing additional analyses and new data about the personal news cycle of racial and ethnic groups in subsequent reports.

Partisans are more attentive to the news but differ in the types of news sources they rely on and trust

Partisans on both sides of the political spectrum differ from non-partisans in terms of their general news habits, as well as differing from each other when it comes to the types of news reporting sources they rely on and trust.

Democrats (81 percent) are more likely than both Republicans (68 percent) and independents (63 percent) to get news from national networks like NBC, CBS, or ABC. Republicans are instead more likely (70 percent) to go to 24-hour TV news channels like Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC, and they do so at significantly higher rates than Democrats (60 percent) or independents (52 percent).

Partisans are more engaged with most types of news sources than independents.

Use of different news sources by party identification

Partisans are more engaged with most types of news sources than independents.

Democrats, Republicans, and independents also show varying levels of trust for different news sources and methods of discovering news. Even when looking just at those who get their news from national news networks like NBC, CBS, and ABC, Democrats are more likely than independents to say they trust the information either very much or completely (57 percent vs. 35 percent). Democrats are also more trusting of newswires like the AP or Reuters than Republicans, with 63 percent of Democrats saying they trust it very much or completely. Less than 4 out of 10 (39 percent) Republicans express this level of trust.

Meanwhile, Democrats who watch 24-hour news networks are more skeptical than Republicans of the information these channels provide, with 16 percent saying they trust that information either slightly or not at all compared to just 9 percent of Republicans who feel the same. Overall, independents (31 percent) are less likely than Democrats (51 percent) to trust information they find from organizations who directly report the news like newspapers, TV newscasts, websites, or newswires generally.

Democrats and Republicans have different levels of trust in different types of sources.

Trust in news sources by party identification

Democrats and Republicans have different levels of trust in different types of sources.

Democrats also say that they enjoy following the news a lot or some at higher rates than independents (91 percent vs. 78 percent). They are also more likely to discover news through print newspapers or magazines (69 percent) than Republicans (59 percent) and independents (44 percent), and more likely to pay for news subscriptions (33 percent vs. 23 percent and 12 percent, respectively).

In addition, Democrats are more likely to follow in-depth news stories beyond just looking at headlines (47 percent vs. 39 percent and 30 percent, respectively), though there are no differences in likelihood to go in-depth on breaking news by party affiliation.

Men report a stronger interest in news, though women are more likely to discover news through social means and more likely to follow some topics

Men appear to have a slightly stronger interest in following the news than women. A greater share of men say that they enjoy keeping up with the news “a lot” (60 percent vs. 51 percent), while women are more likely to say they enjoy following the news “some” (37 percent vs. 27 percent). There are no differences between men and women in the percentage of people who don’t enjoy following the news. While men report slightly higher levels of enjoyment, they are no more likely than women to report reading, watching, or hearing an in-depth news piece in the last week or going in-depth on breaking news.

Women and men do differ in their attentiveness to different news topics. Women are more likely than men to report following news on schools and education (69 percent vs. 50 percent), health and medicine (74 percent vs. 56 percent), lifestyle topics (58 percent vs. 30 percent), and entertainment and celebrities (44 percent vs. 28 percent). Men are more likely to follow foreign or international news (75 percent vs. 61 percent) and sports news (57 percent vs. 34 percent).

Question: Please tell me whether you personally try to keep up with news about each topic or not. * Indicates a significant difference between men and women.

Interest in different news topics by gender

Question: Please tell me whether you personally try to keep up with news about each topic or not.
* Indicates a significant difference between men and women.

Women and men also consume news in slightly different ways.

Women are both more likely to discover news on social media (49 percent vs. 39 percent) and share news with friends through email, text message, or other online methods (50 percent vs. 41 percent). In general, women are more likely to say that they get news alerts by text, email, or app notification (51 percent vs. 43 percent), though they are no more likely than men to say they discovered news through electronic alerts in the last week specifically. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to turn to certain reporting sources, including news from a 24-hour TV news channel like Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC (68 percent vs. 56 percent) and radio news organizations (61 percent vs. 52 percent).

Women are more likely to discover news through social media and friends. Men are more likely to use aggregators and search engines.

Men and women discover news in slightly different ways

Women are more likely to discover news through social media and friends. Men are more likely to use aggregators and search engines.

Men are much more likely to get news from 24-hour cable TV and from radio. Women are more likely to watch local TV news or network news broadcasts.

Men and women get news from slightly different sources

Men are much more likely to get news from 24-hour cable TV and from radio. Women are more likely to watch local TV news or network news broadcasts.

Men and women also differ in when they prefer to watch, read, or hear the news. Men are more likely to say they prefer to follow it throughout the day (38 percent vs. 28 percent) or last thing at night (11 percent vs. 7 percent). Women would rather follow it in the morning (28 percent vs. 21 percent) or in the evening (29 percent vs. 23 percent).

Income and education are associated with greater levels of news consumption and news-gathering habits

Though the differences are by no means dramatic, income is related to how Americans follow the news, how easy they feel it is to keep up with the news, and the sources they use for news. To the degree that was always true, it remains a factor in the digital age when news is more plentiful as well.

Americans with higher incomes are somewhat more likely to report watching, reading, or hearing the news on a daily basis or several times a week. Fully 98 percent of Americans with incomes greater than $100,000 per year report watching, reading, or hearing the news on a daily basis or several times per week, compared to 93 percent of Americans who have incomes between $50,000 and $100,000, and 87 percent of Americans who have incomes of less than $50,000.

Income is also related somewhat to the way Americans discover the news. Americans who have higher incomes are more likely to receive news from traditional news sources such as newspapers and radios. Americans with higher incomes are also more likely to discover news directly from a news organization that reports the news, such as a newspaper, TV newscast, website, or newswire. Fully 96 percent of Americans with incomes greater than $100,000 per year report receiving news from a news organization, compared to 88 percent of Americans with incomes under $100,000 per year. Similarly, 65 percent of Americans with incomes greater than $100,000 per year receive news from radio news organizations, compared to 61 percent of Americans with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 per year, and 48 percent of Americans with incomes under $50,000 per year.

Americans with higher incomes are also more likely than those with lower incomes to receive news from online and other newer sources of news. Overall, 87 percent of Americans with incomes greater than $100,000 per year report receiving news through a computer, compared to 83 percent of Americans who have incomes between $50,000 and $100,000, and to 58 percent of Americans who have incomes of less than $50,000. Similarly, 68 percent of Americans with incomes greater than $100,000 per year received news from a search engine, compared to 58 percent of Americans with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 per year, and 42 percent of Americans with incomes under $50,000 per year.

Americans with higher incomes are more likely to obtain news from online news organizations that mostly combine news from other sources. Sixty-five percent of Americans with incomes greater than $100,000 per year say they receive news from online news organizations that combine news from other sources, compared to 57 percent of Americans with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 per year, and 45 percent of Americans with incomes under $50,000 per year.

Income levels also are related to trust in news sources. Americans with lower levels of income are more likely than others to report that they trust 24-hour TV news channels such as Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC “completely.” Just 6 percent of Americans with incomes greater than $100,000 per year trust 24-hour news channels “completely,” compared with 19 percent of Americans with incomes under $50,000 per year.

Finally, income is related to the likelihood of paying for news. Fully 39 percent of Americans with incomes greater than $100,000 per year reported having at least one paid subscription, compared with 28 percent of Americans with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 per year, and 19 percent of Americans with incomes under $50,000 per year.

Even controlling for income levels, educational attainment is related to how Americans follow the news, how easy they feel it is to keep up with the news, and the sources they use for news. Americans with higher levels of education also are more likely to report watching, reading, or hearing the news on a daily basis or several times a week. Ninety-five percent of Americans who have completed college or graduate school reported watching, reading, or hearing the news on a daily basis or several times per week, compared to 88 percent of Americans who have completed high school or some college, and to 83 percent of Americans who have not completed high school.

Notably, Americans who have completed higher levels of education are more likely than those who have completed less education to report that they watched, read, or heard any in-depth stories in the past week. Fifty-seven percent of Americans who have completed college or graduate school reported that they watched, read, or heard an in-depth news story in the past week, compared to 36 percent of Americans who have completed high school or some college, and 20 percent of Americans who have not completed high school.

Educational attainment also is related to a key topic that Americans report following—news about the national government and politics. Fully 84 percent of Americans who have completed college or graduate school report that they keep up with news about the national government and politics, compared with 69 percent of Americans who have completed high school or some college, and 47 percent of Americans who have not completed high school.

Educational attainment also is related to the sources Americans use for news, with more highly educated Americans being more likely than those with lower levels of education to receive news from both traditional news sources such as newspapers and radios and online and emerging sources.

Americans with higher levels of education are more likely to report receiving news in the past week through newspaper content. Overall, 73 percent of Americans who have completed college or graduate school report receiving news from newspaper media, compared with 66 percent of Americans who have completed high school or some college, and 48 percent of Americans who have not completed high school.

Americans with higher levels of education are also more likely to report that they receive news from online or print magazines. In all, 46 percent of Americans who have completed college or graduate school report receiving news from magazines, compared to 35 percent of Americans who have completed high school or some college, and to 22 percent of Americans who have not completed high school.

Americans with higher levels of income and those with higher levels of education are more likely to report that they receive news from radio news organizations. Fully 65 percent of Americans who have completed college or graduate school report receiving news from radio news organizations, compared with 53 percent of Americans who have completed high school or some college, and 44 percent of Americans who have not completed high school.

Americans with higher levels of education are more likely to report that they receive news from newswires such as AP and Reuters. Overall, 44 percent of Americans who have completed college or graduate school report receiving news from newswires, compared to 30 percent of Americans who have completed high school or some college, and to 14 percent of Americans who have not completed high school.

Highly educated people are much more likely to use all types of news sources.

Use of traditional news sources by education level

Highly educated people are much more likely to use all types of news sources.

In addition to influencing the sources used for keeping up with the news, education is related to the likelihood of paying for news. Overall, 36 percent of Americans who have completed college or graduate school report that they have at least one paid subscription, compared with 21 percent of Americans who have completed high school or some college, and 12 percent of Americans who have not completed high school.

Of those Americans who report having at least one paid subscription, those with higher levels of education are more likely to have paid subscriptions to a newspaper website, to a print magazine, and to a magazine website.

Fully 50 percent of Americans who have completed college or graduate school report that they had a paid subscription to a newspaper website, compared to 34 percent of Americans who have completed high school or some college. Fifty-five percent of Americans who have completed college or graduate school report that they have a paid subscription to a print magazine, compared to 33 percent of Americans who have completed high school or some college. Thirty-two percent of Americans who have completed college or graduate school reported that they have a paid subscription to a magazine website, compared to 13 percent of Americans who have completed high school or some college.

Methodology and background

Study methodology

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 9 through February 16, 2014. The survey was funded by API and The McCormick Foundation. The API, NORC at the University of Chicago, and AP staff collaborated on all aspects of the study.

This random-digit-dial (RDD) survey of the 50 states and the District of Columbia was conducted via telephone with 1,492 adults age 18 and older. In households with more than one adult, we used a process that randomly selected which adult would be interviewed. The sample included 1,006 respondents on landlines and 486 respondents on cell phones. The sample also included oversamples of African American and Hispanic adults. The sample includes 358 Hispanic adults and 318 non-Hispanic African American adults. Cell phone respondents were offered a small monetary incentive for participating, as compensation for telephone usage charges. Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish, depending on respondent preference. All interviews 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 final response rate was 23 percent, based on the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASRO) method. Under this method, our response rate is calculated as the product of the resolution rate (57 percent), the screener rate (92 percent), and the interview completion rate (43 percent).

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 dual telephone frames (landline and cell), with a supplemental sample of landline numbers targeting households with African American and Hispanic adults. The targeted sample was provided by Marketing Systems Group and was pulled from a number of different commercial consumer databases and demographic data at the telephone exchange level. 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. Poststratification variables included age, sex, race, region, education, and landline/cell phone use. The weighted data, which thus reflect the U.S. population, were used for all analyses. The overall margin of error was +/- 3.6 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.

Contributing researchers

From the American Press Institute:

  • Tom Rosenstiel
  • Jeff Sonderman
  • Kevin Loker
  • Millie Tran

From NORC at the University of Chicago:

  • Trevor Tompson
  • Jennifer Benz
  • Nicole Willcoxon
  • Rebecca Reimer
  • Emily Alvarez
  • Dan Malato
  • Matthew Courser

From The Associated Press:

  • Jennifer Agiesta
  • Dennis Junius

About the Media Insight Project

The Media Insight Project is a new collaboration between 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 the American Press Institute, NORC at the University of Chicago, and The Associated Press.

About the American Press Institute

The American Press Institute conducts research, training, convenes thought leaders and creates tools to help chart a path ahead for journalism in the 21st century. The Press Institute 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.

For more information, visit www.MediaInsight.org or email info@apnorc.org.

Download this report or topline results

For printing and offline viewing, PDF versions of this study report as well as the topline survey results are available for download.

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