I teach the introductory writing course in our majors, and the assignment I give on the first day is to go out and interview someone in a particular demographic about their news use habits. It’s not a scientific survey, to be sure, but it usually gives some interesting results.
First, the good news – all 36 people my students interviewed said they did follow the news in some way, regardless of age or gender. That’s important for a communication major looking to justify his or her career choice amidst a barrage of messages that news is dead. It’s not.
Second, although the great majority consume news online, the ways of finding it vary.
Some highlights –
Social referral was tops for those under 30. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were quite important to that age group – so much so that I asked my students to estimate what percentage of Americans use Twitter, and they guessed 80. (hint – that’s very wrong. It’s more like 20) Think of social referral like amateur curation.
Lifehacking the news was important for folks 30-50. People in that age ranges were like to use aggregation sites like Yahoo News or the Drudge Report or RSS readers to find their news and would regularly check those sites during the day. They also used some legacy media like drive time radio and legacy media web sites. We talked about how aggregation is a tricky one, since in some cases it’s an algorithm that is determining what’s important for people to look at.
Habit won the day for those 51 and up. They used TV news and newspapers at planned times during the day. My students said they thought these older Americans aren’t on line or don’t use social media. That’s also wrong. It just seems that they don’t see social media as a means for finding out what’s important. Out of the whole survey, these folks were most likely to trust professional curation.
If you are in an emergency, you need to use multiple channels. The youngest respondents were the most likely to say they would use a search engine to find out what is going on right now (which is frightening…). In the middle would check news websites. The older respondents all said they would turn on the TV.
Ultimately, the message for communicators is the same: know your audience and find them where they are.