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How Americans Get Their News Research Summary

Nov. 13 2018 — We started the News in America series of articles with the lofty goal of better understanding how news media trends are impacting Americans and our democracy. The data used for this series was derived from a Kagan U.S. Consumer Insights survey conducted during third quarter 2018. The following is a summary of what we learned.

Who pays attention to news? Our survey results show there is a wide variance in news consumption. U.S. internet adults fall into the following news consumption segments:

  • A small group of consumers (6%) that do not pay attention to news at all (No time for news group)
  • A substantial group of consumers (38%) that are largely unaware of details related to national news topics but pay attention to local news (Locals group).
  • A relatively small group (12%) of consumers that are generally aware of what is happening in the news, but may not follow the topics in detail (The awares group).
  • A large group of consumers (36%) that closely follow both local and national news topics, but do not rely on TV cable news (Well informed group).
  • A small group of consumers (8%) that are the largest consumers of local and national news (News junkies group).

These results indicate that the national news media reaches 56% of the U.S. internet adult population but only 44% keep up with national news on a daily basis. Voter turnout for the 2016 presidential election was 58% and the turnout for mid-term elections is traditionally in the 35% range. The survey did not identify voting history, but the results suggest that those who track national news are also most likely to vote.

In Part 1 of the series we learned that most Americans acquire their news from multiple sources. Approximately half (49%) of internet adults watch local TV news programs, 40% watch TV network news shows and 33% watch TV cable news. Less than half (44%) of internet adults subscribe to a newspaper and 40% acquire news online.

In Part 2 of the series we revealed that only a slim majority (51%) of internet adults believe most journalists try to report accurate news. Only one-third (34%) of Fox News viewers believe that journalists try to report the news accurately, compared to over three-quarters (76%) of MSNBC viewers and 73% of CNN viewers. Approximately half of those who do not keep up with national news also believe that journalism is biased.

Part 3 of the series found that the influence of TV cable news may be overstated. Only one-quarter (27%) of internet adults said that TV cable news is their most influential source of news. However, among cable news viewers, 38% said TV cable news was their most influential source.

In Part 4 we highlighted that only one-third (32%) of U.S. internet adults keep up with developments in the Russia investigation.

Part 5 showed that Americans who follow news the most also tend to rely on one trusted news source. For example, half (50%) of Fox News viewers, along with 44% of MSNBC views and 39% of CNN viewers said they rely on one trusted source of news.

Part 6 of the series found that two-thirds (65%) of internet adults keep up with local news, most using multiple news sources (newspaper, TV or radio).

In Part 7 we concluded that consumers who watch TV talk shows for politics news do so primarily for entertainment, rather than to be informed. Viewers who watch TV talk shows for political news tend to already be well informed on national and local issues.

In Part 8 we learned that those who closely follow national and local news also are most likely to frequently talk politics. Gender, education and where you live can also impact one’s desire to discuss politics.

This research series highlighted many of the human behavior factors related to news consumption. Where we get our news may change over time, but our interest in following the news, especially national news, may not. Finding innovative ways to convert the 44% of Americans who do not follow national news into informed voters would truly be a worthy cause.

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