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Pew Finds Social Media Has Surpassed Print Newspapers as Americans’ Main News Source

The research center says 20 percent of Americans rely on sites like Facebook, Twitter for news updates, while 16 percent cite print as main news source

Television remains dominant across all mediums, with 49 percent of Americans surveyed citing it as their most-frequented news source (Pixabay)
smithsonian.com

For the first time in the Pew Research Center’s history, social media has outpaced print newspapers as Americans’ main news source, with 20 percent of adults surveyed reporting they rely on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and, yes, Instagram, for the latest updates. Comparatively, just 16 percent cited print newspapers as their most-frequented medium.

These findings, detailed in a sweeping assessment of the nation’s news consumption habits, reflect the much-discussed decline of print media, as well as the accompanying rise of digital news sources. Still, Pew researcher Elisa Shearer notes that television remains dominant across all mediums, with 49 percent of respondents—down eight percentage points from 2016—reporting they learn the news mainly by watching local, cable and network news shows.

News websites finished second overall, claiming the attention of 33 percent of Americans, an increase of five percentage points since 2016. Radio came in third at 26 percent, followed by social media and, lastly, print newspapers.

According to the Associated Press, Pew has regularly tracked Americans’ news consumption since 1991. That year, 56 percent of participants asked to describe where they’d gotten their news the day before selected newspapers. As the number of citizens frequenting social media and digital news sites rose, this figure crept steadily downward, matching the portion of respondents who cited social media as their main news source in 2017 and, in this latest round of questioning, falling definitively behind social media behemoths.

Pew’s director of journalism research, Amy Mitchell, writes that the new findings, which are based on a survey of 3,425 U.S. adults conducted between July 30 and August 12, 2018, point toward Americans’ preference for watching rather than reading or listening to the news. Television remains the preferred viewing platform amongst watchers, but a growing minority (20 percent) said they preferred streaming news videos online.

Interestingly, the poll catalogued not only the news sources participants visited most often, but those they most preferred. Based on this difference in phrasing, the researchers found that 44 percent of Americans enjoyed television best, while 34 percent would ideally opt for online sources (encompassing social media, phone apps and websites). Radio came in at 34 percent, and print claimed a dismal 7 percent.

Unsurprisingly, consumption habits varied dramatically according to age. As Emily Birnbaum reports for the Hill, 81 percent of individuals 65 and older cited television as their most-frequented news source, compared to just 16 percent of those aged 18 to 29 and 36 percent of those aged 30 to 49. Conversely, members of the 18 to 29 demographic were four times more likely than those 65 years and older to receive their news via social media.

Younger Americans also tended to draw on a variety of platforms: Shearer writes that no more than half of those aged 18 to 29 or 30 to 49 found their news through a single medium, instead opting for a mixture of news websites, social media, TV, radio and—in fewer numbers—print.

When combined in the catch-all category of online news sources, news websites and social media nearly caught up to television, accounting for 43 percent of all consumption against television’s 49 percent.

Given the steady upward trend news sites—jumping from 28 percent in 2016 to 33 percent in 2018—and social media—now up to 20 percent from 2016’s 18 percent—are tracking at, as well as the slightly downward trajectory of offline television-watching (now at 49 percent, down from 57 percent in 2016), the way people view the Walter Cronkites and Edward R. Murrows of the future seems poised to evolve, with broadcast falling by the wayside much like its predecessor, the stately broadsheet.

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