The impact of the Digital Divide on racial and ethnic communities may not be as great when it comes to the news
One major concern with the advent of digital technology was the potential for creating a racial and ethnic digital divide — the worry that African Americans and Hispanics would be left behind in the use of technology. Whether an economic issue or one relating to broadband wiring, the worry was that the 21st century would disadvantage racial and ethnic minority populations in new ways.
[pullquote align=”right”]African Americans and Hispanics, much like the American adult population overall, now incorporate a variety of technologies into their lives and use them in ways that fit time of day, circumstance, and convenience for their news consumption habits.[/pullquote]
This survey adds to the growing body of evidence that the digital divide has not materialized in the ways imagined when it comes to technology use; it also adds nuance about the means by which people navigate and think about technology, specifically when it comes to news.
First, African Americans and Hispanics, much like the American adult population overall, now incorporate a variety of technologies into their lives and use them in ways that fit time of day, circumstance, and convenience for their news consumption habits.
Overall, Americans today use 4 different devices or platforms to get news in a given week, including television, radio, print, computers, cell phones, tablets, e-readers, and so-called “smart” internet television connections. Those numbers do not differ dramatically by ethnic group. The average number of devices used among whites is 3.9, 4.2 among African Americans, and 3.5 among Hispanics.
Among all adults, television is the most used (87 percent), followed by laptops/computers (69 percent), radio (65 percent), and print newspapers or magazines (61 percent).
There are some slight differences by race and ethnicity. African Americans (95 percent) are more likely than non-Hispanic whites (87 percent) and Hispanics (86 percent) to say they used a television to get the news in the last week.
Whites and African Americans are more likely than Hispanics to say they read a print newspaper in the last week (65 percent of African Americans, 64 percent of whites, and 46 percent of Hispanics). These findings — the prevalence of television use among African Americans and the lack of print publication use among Hispanics — are echoed elsewhere in the report on various news consumption behaviors.
There is some sign of a divide in computer use for news by race and ethnicity, but, if anything, the growth in mobile technology appears to be making those differences not just vanish, but appear in reverse.
[pullquote align=”right”]Mobile technology appears to have rendered the divide in technology use for news consumption something of a moot point.[/pullquote]
Overall, about 7 in 10 adults nationwide say they used a desktop or laptop computer to get news in the last week. That number is over 7 in 10 for whites, just over 6 in 10 for African Americans, and 56 percent for Hispanics.
But the use of cell phones for news actually tilts the other way. Hispanics (93 percent) and African Americans (97 percent) report that they own a cell phone in similar proportion to adults nationwide (95 percent). And 75 percent of African Americans who own a cell phone say they used it to get news in the last week; 64 percent of Hispanics say the same. The percentage of African Americans and Hispanics saying they used such a device exceeds the percentage of whites (53 percent).
Additionally, similar proportions of Hispanics (70 percent) and African Americans (65 percent) report that they own a smartphone (a cell phone that connects to the internet) relative to the proportion of whites (63 percent). Further, Hispanics (78 percent) and African Americans (85 percent) use smartphones to access the news at similar rates to whites (74 percent).
Mobile technology, in other words, appears to have rendered the divide in technology use for news consumption something of a moot point.
As Americans increasingly incorporate a mix of devices or technologies into their lives, one question is whether they have a preferred device, or whether it is a matter of circumstance and context. All things considered, do people prefer to get news one way or another, or is it just a matter of what is convenient in a given context?
The answer appears to be context. The most common response among all Americans is that they have no preferred device at all (45 overall), but a lack of preference is even more prominent among African Americans (58 percent) and Hispanics (56 percent) than whites (40 percent).
Television ranks second behind no preferred device for the population overall. Among all Americans, 24 percent say they prefer to get news on a television today. Twenty-two percent of African Americans and 14 percent of Hispanics say the same. Among African Americans, 11 percent prefer using a cell phone, 8 percent a computer, 5 percent print, and 5 percent a tablet. Among Hispanics, 13 percent prefer using a cell phone, and 11 percent prefer a computer.