By Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director
Another week brings another study about who’s watching, listening or using the news product we work so hard to produce every day. And the results of this latest study, from the Pew Research Center, suggest that our worries over a shrinking audience may only get worse in the years ahead.
It’s no surprise that Gen Xers (33-47 years old) and Millennials (18-31 years old) spend less time following the news—on any platform—than those older Americans who belong to the Boomer (48-66) and Silent (67-84) generations.
But the troubling trend from this study is found in the fact that the younger generations—who start out consuming less news—don’t appear to increase that consumption as they get older.
Between 2004 and 2012, the average number of minutes spent each day by the different age groups when it comes to engaging with the news increased by only three minutes for the Xers and Millennials over the eight-year period. Millennials moved from 43 to 46 minutes over the period, while Xers increased from 63 to 66. Compare that to the Boomers who remain in the high 70s and the Silents who rank in the mid 80s in terms of minutes spent per day on the news.
It’s long been the conventional wisdom that as the younger generations got a few more years under their belts, they would increase their news consumption. That doesn’t seem to be the case. And some say that suggests a perilous future for the news business in general.
Andrew Kohut, the Founding Director of the Pew Research Center, says that younger generations just don’t enjoy following news—period. “(It) may be the result of any number of factors,” Kohut writes, “more activities that compete with following the news, fewer compelling major historical events during childhood and adolescence and so forth. But a critical factor that emerges from the surveys is that older people simply enjoy the news more than the young do.”
Looking at the various media itself used by younger audiences, the results are not as surprising. The Internet has seen significant growth by Gen Xers when it comes to news—up 20 percentage points in those eight years. Television has seen a six-point increase, while radio and newspapers have both declined among the group.
For Millennials, the Internet has seen a 16-point increase and radio has increased very slightly. Television has declined three points, while newspapers have dropped six points. For both groups, efforts by newspapers to deliver content on digital devices, such as iPhones, iPads and Kindles, don’t seem to have had much impact at all.
Among the Boomers and Silents, the Internet and television have grown as news delivery platforms, while radio and newspapers have both declined.
There’s a small ray of hope for the younger generations and it comes from social media. The Pew survey found that a third of the Millennials and 20 percent of Gen Xers say they regularly see news or news headlines on social networking sites. But of those groups, only about 35 percent of them say it’s enough to cause them to follow up and search for the full news stories.
Kohut’s conclusion: “News organizations clearly and correctly see digital readership as vital to their future. But again, this data suggests that expectations have to be modest with respect to regaining the huge audience the media once enjoyed.”
My conclusion: As an industry, we need to carefully examine what we offer every day as “news” and strive more diligently to produce stories and information that are not only more relevant, but also more engaging, if we hope to reverse this disturbing trend. A constant litany of petty crimes, accidents and fires isn’t likely to do it!
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