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Consuming news in digital era

THE WASHINGTON POST – It might be in a printed paper, but more than likely it’s online, probably crammed onto your smartphone’s screen. Perhaps someone else will stumble across a social media post summarising the words below or hear it talked about on a local radio or television station.

News is consistent in that as long as humans and all their complexities exist, it will never stop happening.

The ways we follow it, however, are changing quickly, and that can impact everything from how stories are covered to the way people feel about unfolding events.

A new poll of news habits by the Pew Research Center showed half of Americans sometimes get their news from social media and vastly more people get it on their digital devices than from television, radios or printed publications.

The survey, conducted from September 25 to October 1, found one sharply rising source of news: TikTok.

Since 2020, the number of TikTok users who say they get news on the app has almost doubled.

A third of adults under 30 and 14 per cent of all adults in the United States now regularly get news from the viral video app, though it still follows behind Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.

PHOTO: ENVATO
PHOTO: ENVATO
PHOTO: ENVATO

“People are making very conscious choices in the social media they turn to, many times based on their identity,” said Director Katerina Eva Matsa of news and information research at Pew Research Center in an interview.

She said the shifts show people aren’t just looking for facts when they seek out news, but also a sense of community.

While consumption of printed news, television and radio continues to drop, that doesn’t mean people are less informed.

Matsa said they are seeing evidence that more users are now exposed to news in general. “I don’t think there’s been a decrease in appetite for the news and I think some situational events – in particular the war in Ukraine and the war in Gaza – have seemed to engage the younger generation of these consumers pretty well,” said Professor Bartosz Wojdynski of new media at the University of Georgia’s College of Journalism.

We asked people about their own evolving news habits, and how they are affected by world events, mental health and misinformation.

TRADITIONAL MEDIA, BUT ONLY SOMETIMES

When Americans want news, they’re likely to pick up their phones. What they do once they’re on them varies and crosses over, with links from social media to full stories and back again.

News websites and apps are the most popular option, followed closely by search, then social media and podcasts, according to Pew.

Sheila Milon reads traditional news only four times a month.

The 23-year-old consultant from Los Angeles will sit down at her computer or device and go deep on the big mainstream news publications.

“I find it hard to keep up with everything in a given news cycle, so I will typically check on the weekends,” Milon said.

During the week, she absorbs the news in bits and pieces through social media, mostly on Instagram and X, formerly known as Twitter. She listens to NPR and Wall Street Journal podcasts on Spotify, and reads daily newsletters from MorningBrew and ProPublica.

When the news she’s following is especially intense, Milon said she needs to tap out and take a break, like she did recently after reading about Gaza and Israel for four days straight.

“I recognised how privileged it is to be able to tune out, but it is really overwhelming, and you feel powerless,” Milon said.

THE LOYAL TELEVISION WATCHERS

Television news, once a giant of breaking international and national news, has fallen out of favour with younger demographics.

Pew found that 41 per cent of people 18 to 29 years old get news from television at least sometimes, but 85 per cent of people 65 and older do.

Half of people in the older age group say they prefer television for news, with that number dropping to eight per cent for adults under 29.

Tony Adams has a consistent routine for getting news he trusts. Every evening, he turns his TV to Fox News and watches for one to four hours, depending on what is happening in the country.

If he’s interested in sports news, he opens up YouTube and types in the games or teams he’s following. He listens to conservative news radio at work, local news is just for weather, and he doesn’t dabble in social media at all.

“I trust Fox News, but not the general CNN news sources,” said 63-year-old Adams in Dayton, Ohio.

AGGREGATION AFICIONADOS

The length of stories, combined with the sheer number of things happening in the world at any given time, can be overwhelming for people already juggling full-time jobs and personal lives.

Twenty-year-old electrician apprentice Christopher Bach from Montebello, California tries to make sure he knows just enough about everything.

Every morning he opens a site called Ground News and scans it for 30 minutes before he starts work.

For each headline, the site collects articles for a variety of sources and labels their political leanings, assigning a bias distribution score to coverage.

“It shows me a lot of important things going on right now, and there’s not a lot of junk or filler,” Bach said. “That’s why I don’t watch the news, because it’s not the best way to get unbiased news, it’s more for entertainment.”

His other go-to source of news is a syndicated progressive podcast called The David Pakman Show. Bach is on social media, and gets some news from X, but doesn’t find it as useful for learning about world events.

His TikTok feed is also devoid of much news, offering an escape from the world with basketball, cooking and random comedy content.

HOLDING ON TO MAINSTREAM NEWS

Steve Love reads most news stories to the end. The 54-year-old executive at a California science and technology company said he’ll finish 60 per cent of the written articles he opens, but he has become more comfortable skimming them over the years.

“News articles on the whole just sort of peter out,” he said. He pays for a New York Times subscription and enjoys a morning round of newsletters from Axios and The Times to catch him up on the basics. Because of his job, he tries to stay up to date on business news.

Over the years, he has had to cut back on how much news he consumes for his mental health.

“The world is depressing,” Love said. “Late in the Trump term I stopped reading as much stuff and just flying past an article or only reading a summary in the morning.” – Heather Kelly

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