July 7, 2016

Key findings on the traits and habits of the modern news consumer

Twenty years ago, only 12% of U.S. adults got news online. Today, that number stands at 81%. About six-in-ten (62%) get news through social media – a figure that rises to 84% for 18- to 29-year-olds. We have also reached a point where a large majority of the public (72%) gets news on a mobile device. As consumers have changed the ways they access news, they also have new ways to interact with it – and new sources to inform them. How have these influences shaped the American public’s habits and attitudes toward the news?

A new Pew Research Center study explores the defining traits of the modern news consumer. One overarching conclusion is that news remains an important part of public life. More than seven-in-ten U.S. adults follow national and local news somewhat or very closely, and 65% follow international news with the same regularity.

Overall our findings show a public that is cautious as it moves into today’s more complex news environment and discerning in its evaluation of available news sources. It also reinforces how, despite the dramatic changes witnessed in the last decade, digital news is still very much in its adolescence.

Here are five key findings on today’s news consumers.

1Online news consumers more likely to get news from professional outlets than from friends, familyFriends and family are an important source of news, but Americans still count more on news organizations. Online news consumers are about twice as likely to often get news online from news organizations as they are from friends and family, and they find that news somewhat more accurate and just as near to their interests. Beyond just online news, Americans place as much trust in the information they get from news organizations as they do in information coming from family and friends – though there is a not a lot of trust placed in either. Only about two-in-ten trust information from local or national news organizations “a lot,” and 14% say the same of information from family and friends. At least three-quarters express some or a lot of trust in the information from each.

2Majorities show at least some trust in both news outlets and friends and family Americans express much more caution about news coming through social media. Although 62% of adults get news on these platforms, just 4% of web-using adults trust the information they get there a lot, and 30% trust it some. This wariness could be tied to the clear distinction the public draws between news they get online from people they are close with and those they are not: News from people they are not close with receives much lower marks for accuracy and relevance.

3The public’s sense of loyalty to their news sources is more complicated to discern. U.S. adults are almost evenly split (51% to 48%) over whether they feel loyal or not to the sources they get their news from. Nonetheless, a separate question reveals that the vast majority of Americans (76%) report turning to the same sources over and over again anyway, suggesting that convenience may trump allegiance.

4Americans overwhelmingly think that news media are one-sidedA clear challenge for the news media is the deeply rooted sense of bias the public perceives in their reporting. Even as three-quarters of the public gives credit to news organizations for holding our leaders accountable, about the same share (74%) feels the news media favor one side in their reporting. That far outpaces the portion of online news consumers who sense this about online news they get from friends and family: In that case, just about a third (35%) describe it as mostly one-sided, while 31% say it represents more than one side. Another third say they don’t get news from friends and family.

5Despite the rise of digital platforms as a source, Americans are not fully centered on the web for news. Television still commands the largest portion of the population – 57% get news there often compared with 38% who often get news online. Newspapers lag far behind at 20%. What lies behind these numbers speaks to the relationship between the web and print media. U.S. adults who prefer to watch their news still choose to do so on television, while those who prefer to read their news have mostly migrated to the web. The vast majority of U.S. adults (80%) who prefer to watch their news name TV as their preferred platform. On the other hand, most (59%) of those who prefer to read their news opt to do so on the web, while just 26% opt for printed paper. Even those who prefer to listen to news are still largely opting for the radio.

Category: 5 Facts

Topics: News Audience Trends and Attitudes, News Media Sectors, News Media Trends, News Sources

  1. Photo of Amy Mitchell

    is director of journalism research at Pew Research Center.

5 Comments

  1. Sheena Ricarte5 months ago

    I must say I’m a modern news consumer. I get my occasional (I dislike to say “daily”) dose of news via Twitter and Facebook. But most of the time, I check on my Twitter account for the latest. I follow mainstream news companies like the WSJ, the NYT, the Guardian, the Telegraph, CNNMoney, and Bloomberg only for the headlines since I don’t have much time to completely read the details.

  2. Anonymous5 months ago

    If someone says, “I get my news from social media,” there are any number of things they might mean. Maybe they found a New York Times article on Facebook through the NYT’s own FB page; maybe they saw a friend post an article on Facebook from some ideological content-mill; or maybe they just saw a Twitter post written by a random nutcase. In each case, they could be said to have “gotten news from social media,” but each of these would yield radically different results.

  3. Stanley Lubin5 months ago

    I am one who laments the decline in credibility of most news sources. Newspapers are a dying breed, largely, I suspect due to print and distribution costs. TV and radio are locked into their time allotments. Internet sources, along with a growing number of TV and radio, appear to be totally into commentary rather than reporting facts. Local news covers auto accidents, fires, weather and traffic jams. National news covers press conferences and hurricanes. There is a very serious drop in reporting on events of importance. Is it no wonder that the youth of today is so jaded that they either flock to the call of anyone who screams for change, yet is beholden to the likes of the Koch brothers?

  4. Anonymous5 months ago

    We need to stop calling it “news.” News has spectated over the last 20 years. What we call “news” today is really many different kinds of information with varying degrees of credibility, on a spectrum ranging from click bait to tweets to investigative journalism. We need to stop thinking of and studying “the news” as a monolithic entity.

  5. sinnathamby sundaralingam5 months ago

    News around the world are divided mainly among many divisions. Most people are keen to know early as possible every days high lights of individual day’s sports results. Their source are mostly from radio, television and print media. Second biggest group of people are mostly keen in knowing daily political and economic developments in their own country and Arround the world. Their source are mostly print media, web news, radio and television. Third biggest news group are among music,film and cultural news groups. This third biggest groups look for electronic recordings ,print media, radio,television and theaters. These are the three main news groups and rest who are not included in these divisions are very less in numbers based according to their individual interests. All these groups are increasingly depend and trust on daily electronic web news.