W. Joseph Campbell

Going newsless, and its implications

In Debunking, Media myths on September 13, 2010 at 7:47 am

The biennial news consumption survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press invariably is full of intriguing data about how Americans use, or shun, the news media.

A particularly telling data point is the percentage of adults Americans who get no news on a typical day.

The 2010 Pew biennial news consumption survey, released yesterday, says that 17 percent of Americans go newsless: That is, they avoid getting news despite the wide variety of options offered by new media technologies.

This data point is not highlighted by Pew researchers; you have to dig a bit into the voluminous report to find a mention of Americans who go newsless.

“The vast majority of Americans (83 percent) get news in one form or another as part of their daily life,” Pew says in the report, adding:

“But even with the availability of news over a wide range of new technologies, 17% of Americans say they got no news yesterday, a figure that is virtually unchanged from previous years.”

Pew notes that in its news consumption survey conducted in 2008, 19 percent of adult Americans said they went newsless–and that survey “did not ask about getting news on a given day via cell phones or other digital technologies.”

Moreover, Pew says, 27 percent of American adults younger than 30 get no news on a typical day.

And among the 18-to-24-year-old cohort, 31 percent go newsless.

Pew offers neither commentary nor detailed tables about its “going newsless” data. And it presents no breakdown by age cohort, as it did in its 2008 report.

But the implications are fairly obvious: Choosing to go newsless suggests that a significant segment of the adult population has little interest, and probably little trust, in the U.S. news media and their content.

I mention the “going newsless” phenomenon in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, which debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths–dubious tales about the news media that masquerade as factual.

Referring to Pew’s 2008 news consumption study, I write:

“Large numbers of Americans are beyond media influence in any case. They choose to go newsless—they mostly ignore the news altogether. They are nonaudiences for news.”

Indeed, it is difficult to make a persuasive case for the sweeping influence of the news media if nearly one American adult in five chooses to eschew the news.

Moreover, the U.S. news media are far too splintered and diverse—print, broadcast, cable, satellite, online—to exert much in the way of collective and sustained influence on policymakers or media audiences, I write in Getting It Wrong. And  I quote the sociologist Herbert Gans who has pointed out:

“If news audiences had to respond to all the news to which they are exposed, they would not have time to live their own lives. In fact, people screen out many things, including news, that could interfere with their own lives.”

The 2010 news consumption study contained another surprising finding, that slightly less than half of young adult Americans get news on a typical day from a digital platform.

Pew notes that “Internet usage among those younger than 30 is nearly universal,” that four in five “have profiles on social networking sites and 58 percent go online using their cell phones.” And yet just 48 percent of that cohort “got news over any kind of digital platform yesterday.”

In fact, Pew says, “more of those younger than 30 (57 percent) got news from traditional sources” than from digital technology.

Americans in their 30s, Pew said, “are the most likely to use digital technologies to get news. Fully 57 percent of those in their 30s say they got news through a digital platform yesterday – either online or mobile – the highest percentage of any age group. And 21 percent of those 30 to 39 say they got news through social networking or Twitter.”

In conducting its 2010 news consumption study, Pew researchers interviewed 3,006 adults via cell phones or land line telephones from June 8 to June 28.

WJC

Related:

Many thanks to Jim Romenesko for linking to this post

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