For news, Americans turn to digital devices

A Pew poll illustrates the degree to which consumers have transitioned from traditional sources.
The New York Times building. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Most Americans say they prefer to consume news on digital devices as the nation’s media diet continues a long march away from once-traditional television and radio outlets, a landmark new survey finds.

The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, found 58% of Americans who said they prefer to get their news from digital devices, more than double the 27% who prefer to watch television for news. Just 5% of Americans say they prefer to rely on print publications, and 6% say they turn on the radio.

Most of those who say they get their news online, 67%, turn to news websites or apps, and 71% say they use search engines to find news. Half of American adults say they sometimes or often look for news on social media sites.

Democrats and Republicans are about evenly distributed in their preference of news sources, but those preferences divide sharply along generational lines. Half of American adults over the age of 65 still prefer television news, compared with just 8% of those between the ages of 18 and 29.

Among that youngest cohort, a whopping 83% say they prefer to get their news from digital devices, while just 30% of senior citizens said the same.

The share of Americans who get their news from social media sites is growing over time — and the mix of platforms on which they get that news is changing.

Facebook remains the favored site for a plurality of Americans, 30%, who say they regularly get news on social media. About a quarter, 26%, get news through YouTube, while 16% prefer Instagram, 14% prefer TikTok and just 12% get news on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

TikTok, the platform most readily adopted by the youngest Americans, is surging as a news platform. Among its users, 43% say they regularly get their news from the app, up from 22% in 2020 — matching the 43% of Facebook users who get their news on the Meta-owned platform.

While fewer Americans now get their news from X, it remains the most news-oriented social media platform. Among its users, 53% say they regularly get news on the platform, down from 59%, but still a higher share than users of any other platform.

About a third of users of Reddit, YouTube and Instagram say they regularly consume news on those platforms.

While there is little partisan spread in news consumption habits, the same is not true for most social media sites — with the notable exception of Facebook and X, where about half of users who regularly consume news are Republicans and half are Democrats.

Democrats are far more likely to get news from Instagram, TikTok and Reddit than are Republicans, the survey found. That may be driven by the demographics of users of those platforms, who tend to skew younger. Among regular users of those three platforms, more than 40% are 18-29 years old, and more than 80% are younger than 49.

About 62% of Facebook users who consume news are under 49, while 16% are over 65.

The survey is likely to inform campaigns at all levels, as candidates and their supporters try to reach and persuade audiences who are fragmented like never before. Where campaigns could once rely on television commercials or radio spots, they must now spend precious campaign dollars on social media sites, streaming services and other outlets, where audiences may be more difficult to reach en masse.

Already this year, President Biden’s campaign has telegraphed a strategy meant to reach people on their digital devices, rather than through more traditional television advertising. One major Democratic group, Priorities USA, has said it will focus exclusively on digital audiences.

The Pew Research Center poll surveyed 8,842 American adults between Sept. 25 and Oct. 1.