The news source versus technology conundrum: Do people know the difference?
With technology changing so rapidly, sometimes knowing what people mean in their answers to survey questions can be a challenge. Recent survey research, for instance, often struggles to know whether adults today can distinguish between the internet as a platform (such as a television or a physical paper) versus a news reporting source (such as CBS News or their local newspaper). When people say they get news from Twitter, what do they mean? Do they see social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, which are ways of discovering news, as new news reporting organizations?
[pullquote align=”right”]People across racial and ethnic groups report that they discover news today in a multiplicity of ways — from old-fashioned word of mouth to electronic alerts and social media.[/pullquote]
This survey set out to address that issue by asking people a series of questions to see if they knew the differences. The findings suggest that while they do not have preferences about technology, Americans do distinguish among news reporting organizations and discovery platforms. And here they do have a distinct differences, and those differences hold across racial and ethnic groups.
First, people across racial and ethnic groups report that they discover news today in a multiplicity of ways — from old-fashioned word of mouth to electronic alerts and social media. And those proportions are similar for non-Hispanic whites, African Americans, and Hispanics — further evidence that the digital divide is something far different than once imagined.
To begin with, majorities of Americans report getting news directly from news organizations either on television, via print, audio, or digitally each week. Nearly 9 in 10 adults overall say they do so, including 92 percent of African Americans and 84 percent of Hispanics.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) say they get news via word of mouth in person or over the phone, and those numbers do not differ significantly by race and ethnicity (67 percent of African Americans and 65 percent of Hispanics). A small majority across groups also report getting news via search engines (51 percent overall, 54 percent of African Americans, and 52 percent of Hispanics).
About half of Americans overall (51 percent), 51 percent of African Americans, and 44 percent of Hispanics say they use news aggregators, organizations such as Google News or Yahoo News, which mostly combine news from other sources.
Similar proportions across racial and ethnic groups also use social media to discover the news. Overall, 44 percent of American adults today say they get news through social media such as Facebook or Twitter, including 44 percent of Hispanics and 50 percent of African Americans.
[pullquote align=”right”]44 percent of American adults today say they get news through social media such as Facebook or Twitter, including 44 percent of Hispanics and 50 percent of African Americans.[/pullquote]
And nearly a third of American adults overall (31 percent) say they get news through alerts for which they have signed up, including 35 percent for African Americans and 26 percent of Hispanics.
Although Americans do not have clear preferences for the devices they use to access news, people across racial and ethnic groups do have preferences for the way they discover news. In the survey, respondents were asked in an open-ended question for their preferred means of discovering the news. At least 6 in 10 African Americans (66 percent), whites (61 percent), and Hispanics (60 percent) prefer getting news directly from news organizations rather than through a technology that curated or delivered it for them such as social media or an aggregator.
One reason for this preference might be related to trust. Respondents were asked, of the means by which they discovered news, what their level of trust was for each. News alerts people sign up for yield the highest level of trust, across all groups. Half of adults overall trust news received from news alerts, as do 60 percent of Hispanics and 53 percent of African Americans.
Seeking out the news directly ranks as the second most- trusted way of getting news, whether on television, online, on the radio, or in print (43 percent of adults overall, 44 percent of Hispanics, 42 percent of African Americans).
Finally, the survey probed Americans’ attitudes about which kinds of reporting organizations they use as sources for their news. On this dimension of news consumption, there are more differences than in some other qualities in the degree to which specific sources are used and trusted. This theme — that the type of news sources used varies to a degree across racial and ethnic groups — reemerges depending on the news topic accessed.
Across racial and ethnic groups, the survey finds that local television news represents the news source used in the last week by more people than any other. Overall, 82 percent of adults say they got news from local television news outlets in the last week, either on television or online, including 90 percent of African Americans, 80 percent of whites, and 79 percent of Hispanics.
Network news is the second most-used news source, but here there is some notable variation across racial and ethnic groups. Seventy-three percent of Americans overall say they watched broadcast network news such as ABC, CBS, or NBC in the last week. Yet 85 percent of African Americans say they watched such news, far outpacing the share of Hispanics who do the same (59 percent).
Interestingly, while there are differences in the degree to which sources are used, there are relatively few differences among non-Hispanic whites, African Americans, and Hispanics in the level of trust assigned to these different news reporting sources. Two notable exceptions emerged in the survey. Non-Hispanic whites are much more likely than African Americans to say they trust the information they get from newspapers very much (42 percent vs. 30 percent). And Hispanics are much more likely than whites to say they trust the information they get from national network news very much or completely (60 percent vs. 45 percent).
General news consumption habits among African Americans and Hispanics
Even with concerns about coverage of their communities in the news, large majorities of African Americans and Hispanics are avid news consumers and their general news habits are similar to national averages. Substantial numbers of Americans say they watch, read, or hear the news at least once a day (76 percent) and also say they enjoy keeping up with the news a lot or some (88 percent).
But there are some differences by race and ethnicity in the frequency of news consumption. Non-Hispanic whites (80 percent) are more likely to say they get news daily than are African Americans (70 percent) or Hispanics (70 percent).
[pullquote align=”right”]The digital age brought with it a new kind of news consumer, people who get news throughout the day, something that has increased even more with mobile technology.[/pullquote]
But those distinctions change when people are asked if they enjoy keeping up with the news. Although large majorities across the racial and ethnic groups compared in this study say they enjoy the news, there is no difference between non-Hispanic whites (89 percent) and African Americans (91 percent) on this attitude. Yet, somewhat fewer Hispanics (78 percent) say they enjoy keeping up with the news.
The digital age brought with it a new kind of news consumer, people who get news throughout the day, something that has increased even more with mobile technology. In all, 33 percent of American adults report that they usually get their news throughout the day rather than more heavily at certain times, with 37 percent of African Americans, 32 percent of whites, and 31 percent of Hispanics sharing that pattern. Similar proportions of African Americans (28 percent), Hispanics (25 percent), and whites (23 percent) prefer to access news in the morning. There is more of a difference in the evening: whites (29 percent) are more likely than African Americans (18 percent) to say they prefer to get news in the evening; 22 percent of Hispanics prefer accessing news in the evening.
[pullquote]Only about 4 in 10 Americans report delving beyond the headlines into a story in the last week. Whites and African Americans are more likely than Hispanics to say they accessed news stories beyond the headlines.[/pullquote]
And what is the nature of Americans’ news consumption habits? To what extent are they grazing across headlines versus reading deeply? A more cursory scan of the news dominates. Only about 4 in 10 Americans (41 percent) report delving beyond the headlines into a story in the last week. Whites (44 percent) and African Americans (37 percent) are more likely than Hispanics (24 percent) to say they accessed news stories beyond the headlines.
And is delving deeper into a news story more likely to happen at a certain time of day, or might it happen at any time during the day? The answer, across groups, is that there is no prescribed time in which people go deeper into the news. It is most common to watch, read, or hear in-depth news stories — beyond the headlines — all throughout the day, with smaller but sizable proportions across groups accessing in-depth stories in the morning and in the evening.
While the news in general may not get most Americans to read beyond the headlines, slightly more people report delving beyond the headlines when their curiosity is triggered by a breaking news story. Half of adults (49 percent) say they tried to find out more about the last breaking news story to which they paid attention. The tendency to delve deeper into a breaking news story does not vary by race or ethnicity, with about half of whites (50 percent), 48 percent of African Americans, and 48 percent of Hispanics saying they tried to find out more information about the last breaking news story they could recall.
African Americans and Hispanics are less likely than whites to pay for news subscriptions
About a quarter of adults nationwide (26 percent) report that they currently pay for any news subscriptions. Whites (31 percent) are much more likely than African Americans (16 percent) and Hispanics (11 percent) to say they currently pay for any type of news subscription. Among those Americans who pay for a news subscription, there are no significant differences across racial and ethnic groups in the types of news subscriptions for which they pay.
How news topics people follow vary by race and ethnicity
The word “news” itself may even be a source of confusion, bringing a certain kind of information to mind. News actually encompasses a wide range of matters, from traffic snarls to political infighting to concerns about school lunches. To get at this confusion, the survey broke news down into 17 different topics and asked people if they followed them, how, and where. While 17 may not be fully inclusive, it provides a range that illuminates the nature of news consumption in the digital age in new ways.
[pullquote align=”right”]The most important determinant in where and how people seek news is not their age or political orientation but the topic of the news about which they want to learn.[/pullquote]
One of the major findings of the first release from this project is that the most important determinant in where and how people seek news is not their age or political orientation but the topic of the news about which they want to learn. Audiences are seeking out different sources for news depending on the subject, going one place for weather, another for sports, another for politics, and so forth. In an age when the audience is in charge of their own information diet, the internet rewards specialization. This is a challenge, but also an opportunity, for local publishers.
Are there any significant differences in the topics people follow by race and ethnicity? The answer here was a fairly resounding yes.
On average, Americans consume news about a wide variety of subjects. At least 40 percent overall report following 14 of the 15 topics asked of all racial and ethnic groups on the survey. (Some topics were asked only of African Americans and Hispanics.)
Distinct differences emerge, however, across racial and ethnic groups, in the news topics people choose to follow. Non-Hispanic whites are more likely to say they try to keep up with news about social issues (62 percent vs. 40 percent of African Americans vs. 44 percent of Hispanics). The same is true, with even more variation, when it comes to national government and politics: 78 percent of whites say they try to keep up with this issue, compared with 63 percent of African Americans and 38 percent of Hispanics.
[pullquote align=”right”]Hispanics are more likely than whites to keep up with news about entertainment and celebrities. African Americans are much more likely than whites to say they try to keep up with the news about schools and education.[/pullquote]
While 3 in 4 Americans overall follow news about the town where they are living, Hispanic adults (64 percent) are less likely to follow this type of news than whites (81 percent); 72 percent of African Americans follow such news. Similarly, while 71 percent of adults overall follow news about business and the economy, Hispanic adults (53 percent) are least likely to follow such news across racial and ethnic groups (73 percent of African Americans and 71 percent of whites).
There are also differences in curiosity about foreign affairs. Overall, 67 percent of adults say they follow this topic, but the percentage following foreign affairs news is lower among African Americans (45 percent) and Hispanics (61 percent) than whites (70 percent).
Hispanics are more likely than African Americans to keep up with the news about science and technology (67 percent vs. 45 percent, respectively) and more likely than whites to keep up with news about entertainment and celebrities (54 percent vs. 32 percent, respectively). Finally, African Americans are much more likely than whites to say they try to keep up with the news about schools and education (73 percent vs. 52 percent).
Some topics are followed at similar levels across the general population, with no major variation across racial and ethnic groups. These include traffic and weather (84 percent overall), the environment and natural disasters (78 percent), health and medicine (66 percent), crime and public safety (68 percent), sports (46 percent), lifestyle topics (45 percent), and art and culture (35 percent).
Racial and ethnic groups utilize different reporting sources for 11 of the 15 news topics that the survey probed
Americans turn to different reporting sources for different news topics. While the topic drives news consumption habits, regardless of a consumer’s racial or ethnic group, the sources preferred within each topic do vary by race and ethnicity. Of the 15 news topics that all groups were asked about in the survey, the most commonly used news source for individual topics differs across racial and ethnic groups for 11 topics.
For example, newspapers (either online or in print) are the source most cited by non-Hispanic whites for news about their local town or city and schools and education. Local television news is the source most cited by African Americans and Hispanics for those topics. Similarly, whites most often cite newspapers to get lifestyle news. African Americans and Hispanics, on the other hand, most often cite specialty news sources like E! or the Food Network for lifestyle topics.
On 3 topics where African Americans and whites tend to seek out 24-hour cable news sources — national government and politics, foreign or international issues, and social issues — Hispanics report using ethnic media most often. At least 1 in 10 Hispanics reports using an ethnic media news source for 14 of the 17 news topics assessed of Hispanics in the survey.
Few differences emerge when comparing the devices used to keep up with various news topics by race and ethnicity, with the exception of local news. African Americans and Hispanics are nearly twice as likely as whites to watch television to keep up with news about their local town or city (49 percent each vs. 26 percent). About half of whites (48 percent) do not identify the device they used to follow local news, compared to 28 percent of African Americans and 24 percent of Hispanics.
When it comes to news discovery, getting information directly from an organization that reports the news is most popular across all racial and ethnic groups for every topic except entertainment and celebrities, lifestyle, or sports.
Hispanics are more likely than whites to keep up with news on immigration
At the time the survey was conducted earlier in 2014, most Americans reported not following news about immigration. Overall, just 43 percent of Americans said they follow this subject, a proportion similar to sports or lifestyle topics. (It should be noted that while the survey was in the field in January and February 2014, immigration was not a main topic in the news. Immigration news heated up over the summer with debates in Congress, failed legislation, and the influx of Central American children crossing the border, all during a midterm election year.)
That disinterest becomes even more pronounced if one breaks the topic down by race and ethnicity, though perhaps not as much as some might imagine. A majority of Hispanics say they try to keep up with immigration news, but only a small majority (56 percent). Still, that is significantly more than African Americans (35 percent) or non-Hispanic whites (34 percent).
Where do people get their immigration news? Nearly half of Americans (49 percent) who try to keep up with immigration news say they usually watch television for news about this topic, and 30 percent do not specify a device. Hispanics are much more likely than whites to say they watch television for news about immigration. Sixty-nine percent of Americans who try to keep up with immigration say they usually get news about this topic directly from a news organization that reports the news. This finding is consistent across racial and ethnic groups; 72 percent of whites and 69 percent of Hispanics say they find news about immigration directly from a news organization that reports this news. Hispanics most often cite ethnic media as the source of their immigration news, whereas whites turn to unspecified television stations and African Americans turn to 24-hour news sources.
Differences in news habits between breaking news, slow-moving trends, and news topics Americans are passionate about
In addition to different topics that comprise the word “news,” there are also different kinds of news. Some is fast breaking. Other news involves slower-moving trends. Still others are passion topics that people follow out of a continuing, intense level of interest.
To understand how people consume news, the survey probed behavior based on all 3 of these different categories of news.
[pullquote align=”right”]The particular types of news stories Americans recall do vary by race and ethnicity to a certain extent.[/pullquote]
To assess behaviors around fast-breaking news, the survey asked people to identify the last breaking news story they watched, read, or heard about as it unfolded.
Fully 85 percent of American adults surveyed could recall the last breaking news story they watched, read, or heard. That percentage does not vary much by race and ethnicity. Yet the particular types of news stories Americans recall do vary by race and ethnicity to a certain extent.
The survey was conducted 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.
The largest proportion — 23 percent of adults — cite a political topic as the last breaking news story that they watched, read, or heard. Another 17 percent mention weather, 16 percent a national crime story such as a school shooting, and 11 percent a local news story. The largest proportion of non-Hipsanic whites (29 percent) cite a political event as the last breaking news story they could recall, including 17 percent who specifically mention the Chris Christie scandal.
African Americans (15 percent) and Hispanics (14 percent) are less likely than whites to cite a political story as the breaking news event they last followed. Instead, the top breaking news event Hispanics cite is weather (20 percent), while weather and local news tie at 17 percent as the most popular breaking news topics among African Americans. Both groups are more likely than whites to recall a local story as the last breaking news event they followed in real time.
When asked where they heard about that story, African Americans and Hispanics tend to report slightly different ways of finding out about the last breaking news event they recall. African Americans (59 percent) are most likely to recall first hearing about a breaking news story from television. Another 10 percent cite the internet generally, 4 percent say radio, and the same percentage says a cell phone.
Similar proportions of Hispanics cite television (49 percent) and the internet generally (15 percent), but Hispanics are more likely to say cell phones (9 percent).
[pullquote align=”center”]African Americans are nearly twice as likely as Hispanics to first hear about breaking news from local television. Fully 70 percent of African Americans cite some form of television news as their primary source for the last breaking news story they could remember. That number is lower for Hispanics.[/pullquote]
And from what kind of news organization do people generally hear about breaking news, despite device or means of discovery? Again there are differences.
African Americans (30 percent) are nearly twice as likely as Hispanics (17 percent) to first hear about breaking news from local television (22 percent of adults overall). Adding together all the different types of television reporting sources respondents mention (cable, local, network, or not specified), fully 70 percent of African Americans cite some form of television news as their primary source for the last breaking news story they could remember.
That number is lower for Hispanics (45 percent). On the other hand, Hispanic adults (17 percent) are far more likely to cite ethnic media sources (a number that might include ethnic television reporting sources).
Where people first discover breaking news is one component of understanding their behavior. Another is knowing where people turn if they want to learn more about that breaking news event. In general, about half of those who could name a breaking news story that they had recently followed say they then went deeper to find out more about it, a number that does not vary by racial or ethnic group.
The mode they turn to for more information is also consistent across groups. The internet is the top place they turn, but African Americans also turn to television in high numbers (29 percent vs. 19 percent of Hispanics); 18 percent of adults overall turn to television for more information.
Fewer people cited a specific news source to which they turned for more information on breaking news stories. But when they do, African Americans (21 percent) are again more likely than whites (11 percent) to say local television news, and Hispanics are more likely than African Americans to say ethnic media (8 percent vs. 0 percent).
What about passion topics, those one or two subjects that people follow all the time no matter what is happening? What do those topics happen to be and where do they turn for them?
Twenty-one percent of adults overall volunteer a topic that relates to politics and government as the issue they followed most passionately in the news, including 23 percent of whites and 18 percent of African Americans. The most common response among Hispanics (16 percent) is traffic and weather, followed by politics and government (13 percent). People across groups, however, cite a variety of topics, including international news, business and economic news, sports, and crime and public safety, among others.
And even more so than is the case with breaking news, television is the technology most people use to follow the topics that they care passionately about; this is true across racial and ethnic groups, though with some variation (63 percent of African Americans, 55 percent of Hispanics, and 42 percent of whites). The internet comes next: 31 percent of whites, 24 percent of Hispanics, and 17 percent of African Americans cite this as the technology they use for news about which they are passionate.
And the specific news source? Again, African Americans (31 percent) are more likely than Hispanics (18 percent) and whites (13 percent) to turn to local television news sources. Hispanics, again, are most likely to cite ethnic media news sources (21 percent).
Non-Hispanic whites (13 percent) and African Americans (10 percent) are more likely than Hispanics (3 percent) to mention newspapers (whether online or in print).
Finally, there is another kind of news event, the slow-moving trend that one follows but may not do so with the same level of passion — say the economy or climate change. How do people learn about this kind of news and does that vary by race and ethnicity?
Here again the survey suggests there are differences by race and ethnicity in the types of reporting sources people turn to. African Americans are the most likely to cite local news stations as their top source for trend news; fewer whites (10 percent) and Hispanics (8 percent) mention this source. One in 5 African Americans cite 24-hour news stations as their top source for trend news. Among Hispanics, the top news source for trend news is again ethnic media (16 percent). Whites most often cite newspapers, whether print or online, as their source for trend news (18 percent); 14 percent of African Americans and 5 percent of Hispanics say they use newspapers for this type of news.