Thursday, December 23, 2004

Americans are still loyal to familiar faces and old-fashioned neighborhood newsprint, even in a big media culture.

As a primary source of news, we first look to local television news and local newspapers, according to a new Gallup poll, followed by cable news channels, the evening news on CBS, NBC or ABC. Morning news shows like NBC’s “Today,” public TV, talk radio, Internet news, National Public Radio and national newspapers like the New York Times or USA Today.

Who’s the most loyal, consistent news consumer on a daily basis? It’s folks older than 65: The poll finds that 70 percent of them watch local TV news every day, 62 percent take in network news and 61 percent read the local paper.

In comparison, less than a third of those in the 18- to 29-year-old set watch local TV news every day while a quarter heed the network news. Just 32 percent read their local paper daily.

The Internet poses a decided contrast: 7 percent of our seniors go to the Internet for news. The figure is 21 percent among young adults.

Such differences in tastes and behaviors causes considerable angst in an industry that must maintain ratings or readership to sell vital advertising. To get an edge on the competition, many news organizations become fixated on “branding” their image or heeding the advice of consultants who consider news a “product.”

The ultimate truth? One size no longer fits all in the news business.

“Local, traditional media like newspapers and TV news still command a very large audience, and that’s good news. But they’re competing in a far more fragmented market now,” said Andrew Nachison, director of the Media Center, a research group affiliated with the Virginia-based American Press Institute.

“The bigger question is this: How will our local papers and TV stations respond to future behavioral changes in consumers who now have an ever-increasing variety of sources? ” he asked.

The evolution of these behaviors — be it mulling over headlines, faithfully tuning in a favorite anchorman or a combination of the two — are charted with care.

The Media Center released the results of a new survey on Dec. 2, revealing the press habits of a 13,414 adults. Almost three quarters of them practice something called “media multi-tasking.”

Folks are no longer passive couch potatoes who lollygag in front of the television, apparently. According to the poll, 65 percent of us read the newspaper and 64 percent read the mail while watching TV.

And 62 percent surf the Internet and 59 percent read a magazine while the television is blaring away in front of them.

The Gallup poll, meanwhile, has further revelations.

Although the poll shows that Americans still maintain loyalties to their local news providers, public interest in print and broadcast news outlets in general has declined since Gallup last took the poll in 2002.

Public television has been hit the worst, with viewer interest down eight percentage points in the past two years. It fell by seven points among those who watched CBS, NBC and ABC, “reaching an all-time low,” according to the poll.

Viewership fell by six points for local TV viewers, also a record low.

The poll also showed a five-point drop among National Public Radio listeners, a four-point drop among readers of the New York Times and other national papers, a three-point drop in local newspaper readers and a two-point drop among those who watch both morning news programs and cable news.

Talk radio declined by a single percentage point.

The only bright spot was the Internet. The numbers of those who use the Web daily or several times a week to get their news fix rose by five points in the past two years — up to 26 percent.

“Still, it is important to note that the use of the Internet for news continues to be dwarfed by use of traditional television and print news sources,” the Gallup survey notes.

Contact Jennifer Harper at or 202/636-3085.

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