Monday, July 08, 2013

All the news that sits

A new Gallup poll reports that 55% of Americans say television is their main source for news, leading the Internet at 21%. A mere 9% of Americans turn to newspapers, and 6% to radio.

I don’t think that this is particularly surprising, and it’s important to note, as Gallup does, that this poll has found what Americans consider to be their main source of news, not necessarily their only source. So, TV watchers may also read newspapers, for example.

Nevertheless, we know that newspapers have been slowly dying for years, and there’s nothing in this poll to suggest that there may be a rebirth. Media companies are moving their content behind paywalls, with little evidence that people will actually pay for what they’re used to getting for free—particularly when there will always be free alternatives.

The problem is that real journalism is expensive, and news organisations have to pay for it somehow. Pay TV has a specific model for gaining revenue, but newspapers haven’t found anything similar that works.

This could mean that as newspapers’ online content disappears behind paywalls, more people may get their news from television, and that could be a real problem. Many studies have shown how ill-informed viewers of the ideologically-driven Fox “News” are, for example. Imagine if that went from being some people’s main source of news to being their only source.

The Gallup report also highlights demographic differences between viewers of Fox and CNN, and there are no surprises there. But with Fox viewers tending to be older than CNN viewers, maybe reliance on Fox won’t be a problem long term, as the network’s viewers die off.

I think that this possibility is reinforced by the news sources chosen by those 18-29 and those 30-49: They’re remarkably similar (see the chart, above). They’re significantly more likely to select the Internet as their main news source than those over 50. To me, this suggests that they’re accustomed to ferreting out news while older Americans—especially those over 65—tend to be far more passive.

For me, a significant component of this more active approach to news consumption is social media. I know that I’ve certainly seen a lot of major stories breaking first on Twitter (like Michael Jackson’s death), and have seen Twitter driving news (like launching public support for marriage equality in New Zealand). I’ve also seen news and commentary that I’d otherwise never have run across because someone posted a link on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. So, for me, the Internet is probably my main source of news, too—but that includes the websites of newspapers and television and radio news organisations (and podcasts of their broadcasts).

The Gallup study documents the fracturing of news sources. That’s unlikely to change, but we can’t yet know whether this will turn out to be a good thing or not. I choose to be optimistic because of the more active ways younger people source their news. Trouble is, we won’t know if I’m right for many years yet. I wonder if it’ll be in the news…


rogerogreen said...

US TV news - for the most part - sucks. It's not just the trivialization of the latter stories on the Big Three prime broadcasts, it's the insistence of going on the air with nothing to say (CNN after the Boston bombing). And I'm not even touching FOX News.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I often watch the ABC and sometimes the CBS broadcasts and am always shocked at how shallow they are. Maybe five minutes of real news and the rest infotainment or "feel good" stories of plucky people doing good and being so darn nice.To be sure, we have our own issues in NZ, but on the whole the broadcasts aren't quite as shallow, at least, not most of the time.