Cover: Profiles of News Consumption

Profiles of News Consumption

Platform Choices, Perceptions of Reliability, and Partisanship

Published Dec 10, 2019

by Michael S. Pollard, Jennifer Kavanagh


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Research Questions

  1. How do Americans currently get their news?
  2. How are news consumption choices linked to demographic or political characteristics?
  3. Do news consumers believe the reliability of news has changed, and which news platforms do they believe to be more or less reliable?
  4. How is the perceived reliability of news associated with news consumption choices?
  5. How does political partisanship shape news consumption behavior?

In this report, the authors explore novel measures of how U.S. media consumers obtain news. They examine the combinations and relative levels of use of different news delivery platforms (e.g., print, broadcast television, social media, internet), and the relationships between these "news consumption profiles" and (1) consumers' perceptions of the reliability of news overall and of news platforms, (2) consumers' use of perceived reliable platforms, and (3) their willingness to seek out news from differing viewpoints. The study relies on survey data from the nationally representative RAND American Life Panel and further identifies sociodemographic and political partisanship factors associated with news media consumption characteristics.

Many people (41 percent) indicated that they believed that news has become less reliable than in the past; a similar number (44 percent) said they believed there has been no change; and 15 percent said they thought news is more reliable now. Perceptions of changes in news reliability were linked to patterns of accessing the news (platforms used and whether people sought out differing viewpoints in news coverage). Broadcast and cable television were perceived by the greatest number of people to be the most-reliable ways to get news. Social media and in-person communication were perceived as the most-reliable sources by the smallest number of respondents. Except for individuals who got most of their news from social media or in-person communication, and for individuals who believe the news to be generally less reliable now than in the past, people generally reported getting news from sources they rated as among the most reliable. Finally, political partisanship was broadly linked to news consumption behaviors: consumption profiles, perceptions of news reliability, and willingness to seek out news from differing viewpoints.

Key Findings

Different demographic groups get their news in different ways

  • People whose primary news sources are social media and in-person contacts are generally younger and female, and they tend to have less education than a college degree and lower household incomes.
  • People whose primary news sources are print publications and broadcast television tend to be be significantly older, and they are less likely to be married.
  • People whose primary news source is radio are significantly more likely to be male, less likely to be retired, and more likely to have a college degree.
  • People whose primary news sources are online platforms are significantly younger, more likely to be male and have a college degree and higher income, and less likely to be black.

Attitudes toward the reliability of news are mixed

  • Overall, 44 percent reported that they believed "the news is as reliable now as in the past."
  • Nearly the same amount — 41 percent — reported a belief that the news has become less reliable.
  • A minority (15 percent) said that they believed that the news is more reliable now.
  • There was an association between news consumption profiles and perceptions of reliability — people who relied more heavily on online, radio, and social media/in-person platforms to obtain news were less likely to say that news is more reliable now than in the past.

Although many consumers seek alternative viewpoints occasionally, most do not make a habit of doing so

  • One in five respondents (20 percent) reported that they "always or almost always" seek out different views; most people (54 percent) said that they "sometimes" do; 17 percent said that they "infrequently" seek out differing sources; and 9 percent said they "never or almost never" do.
  • Political partisanship was broadly linked to news consumption behaviors; that is, consumption profiles, perceptions of news reliability, and willingness to seek out news from differing viewpoints.

This project is a RAND Venture. Funding was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations.

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