According to The Pew Research Center's biennial news survey, the two major trends shaping news consumption habits in the late 1990s have leveled off. First, the dramatic growth in online news consumption has ebbed, as increases in overall Internet penetration have slowed. The survey shows that 25% of Americans go online for news at least three times a week, compared with 23% in 2000. But the relative impact of online news remains substantial among those under age 30, where online news has a larger following than any other format except local TV news.
The public's news habits have been largely unaffected by the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent war on terrorism. In the past few months, as many as four-in-ten Americans have paid very close attention to news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but there is no evidence its appetite for international news extends much beyond terrorism and the Middle East. Just 6% paid very close attention to the failed coup in Venezuela, and the same small number closely tracked the surprising showing of right-wing presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in the French election.
More Americans say they are generally interested in international news, but almost all of the increased interest in international news has come among a narrow, highly-educated segment of the public: affluent Americans, college graduates and older people. Those who are younger, less educated and have lower incomes are not significantly more interested in overseas news coverage than they have been in the past.
But a solid majority of the public (61%) continues to track international news only when major developments occur, while far fewer (37%) are consistently engaged by international news coverage. By comparison, solid majorities keep up with national and local news (53%, 56% respectively) most of the time, not just when something important happens.
The steady erosion of the regular audience for network evening news over the past decade has abated. 32% regularly watch one of the nightly network news broadcasts, compared with 30% in 2000. This is comparable to the overall cable news audience of 33%. While the reach of cable news is relatively broad, its audience is less deep compared to network viewers. Though the same proportion consider themselves regular viewers of network and cable news, when the measure is narrowed to news viewing "yesterday," network evening news holds a 30% to 25% margin. And the network margin over cable widens even more for people who spent a half hour or more on the news, 62% of whom watched network news, 49% cable.
Since 1993 the biggest decline in network news viewership has come in the 35-49 age group. A similar trend is evident in regular newspaper readership, which continues to inch downward. Just 41% of respondents say they read a paper the previous day, compared with 47% in 2000 and 48% in 1998. Since 1991 a large portion of this decline has occurred in the 35-49 age category. At the same time, it should be noted that older people have stuck with newspapers to a relatively greater degree than with network news.
Additional findings of interest
- Senior citizens seem to be adjusting to the crowded media landscape. Two years ago, 41% of those 65 and over said they felt overloaded with information; that number has dropped to 31% in the current survey.
- Americans remain avid consumers of new technology. The number of people with DVD players has nearly tripled since 2000 (16% to 44%), while the proportion who have a Palm Pilot or a similar device has doubled (5% to 11%).
- Nearly half of Americans (48%) were able to identify Yasser Arafat as leader of the Palestinians. Almost as many (41%) knew that Israel was founded in 1948. But only three-in-ten (29%) identified Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.
- People who were born overseas know more about international affairs than those who were born in this country.
Find out more here.