The Pew Internet & American Life project just released its latest survey on media use, and the results show both the transformation and stasis in our media diets. The big headline seems to be that "The internet has surpassed newspapers and radio in popularity as a news platform on a typical day." Sixty-one percent of Americans get news online in a typical day, but only 50 percent read their local newspaper, while 17 percent read a national paper like the New York Times or USA Today (Pew didn't say how many of the 50 percent are also in the 17 percent, but presumably it's enough to bring the total below 61 percent). Clearly, people are getting news from more places than ever before (46 percent said they got news from four to six sources in a typical day).
But there's also some not-so-great news. The most popular news source for Americans remains local television news, just as it has been for decades. Fully 78 percent of Americans watch local news on a typical day, according to this survey. In other words, the primary source for information about the world around us remains the least substantive, most sensationalistic news format there is.
There are a lot of other interesting findings. For instance, "Some 37% of internet users have actively contributed to the creation, commentary, or dissemination of news," meaning things like adding a comment on a news story, posting links to their Facebook pages, or Tweeting about a news story. That suggests strongly that it's no longer just that narrow slice of people who are politically active who interact with public affairs in this way, but a much broader proportion of the population. Now if they would just turn off the horror show of overhyped crime coverage and mindless human-interest stories ("Take a look at this water-skiing squirrel, Biff!") that appears every evening at 5, and 5:30, and 6, and 11...
-- Paul Waldman