The audience for journalism is now scattered across vastly more outlets (and more media sectors) than even a decade ago.
Still, tracking the question “Where have you been getting most of your news about national and international issues?” shows some clear trends over time. Television dominates, followed by newspapers, then radio and now, closely behind, by the Internet.
According to February 2003 numbers from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 83 percent of Americans get most of their news from television, 42 percent from newspapers, 19 percent from radio, and 15 percent from the Internet. (The survey questions usually allow more than one answer.)
Reliance on television increases even more, according to the surveys, in times of crisis such as the war in Iraq or immediately after September 11. Television use goes up and everything else seems to drop, particularly print, though the shifts are temporary.
1991 to 2003
Source: Pew Research Center, “Strong Opposition to Media Cross-Ownership Emerges: Public Wants Neutrality and Pro-American Point of View”
* Survey qu.: How have you been getting most of your news about national and international issues? From television, from newspapers, from radio, from magazines, orfrom the Internet?
However, while the dominant media sectors of the 20th century – mainstream, general interest newspapers, network television and local television news – still attract the largest number of people, all are losing audience.
Meanwhile, online, ethnic and alternative media are growing markedly. According to one survey, a record 150 million Americans went online in September 2003, and other surveys show half of Internet users get news online at least once a week.
The growth in ethnic media is similarly impressive. Consider, for instance, that the circulation of Spanish-language newspapers has more than tripled in the last decade to 1.7 million, at a time when English-language newspaper circulation has declined 11 percent.
The three growth areas in journalism share the same strength – the opportunity for audiences to select tailored content and, in the case of the Internet, to do it on demand.
Cable news had been growing since the late 1990s but is no longer doing so, (though the press generally reports audience growth since the cable networks average the numbers in ways that make them appear larger than they really are). Perhaps one reason cable audiences have not grown in two years is that while cable is immediate, it does not offer audiences the ability to search and customize the information that the Internet does. The only cable network that is growing, Fox News, may have an advantage in this regard: it is already tailoring itself for a niche consisting, according to survey data, of a more conservative audience.
Radio and news magazine audience numbers, like cable, are largely flat. The energy and the growth in these sectors are in those places targeting specialized audiences with high quality content – smaller circulation outlets like The Economist in magazines and NPR in radio.