Young People Are Fleeing TV As a Main Source of News

And yet it's still bigger than newspapers and radio combined.

Mike Licht/Flickr

Al Jazeera is making a big bet on cable TV news tomorrow when it launches a new, 24-hour network. Maybe it will find a large audience, and maybe it won't, but one thing you can bet is that it will be very difficult to attract young eyeballs, as television has fallen behind the Internet as twentysomethings' main source of news, according to a recent Pew report. Here are five things Pew tells us about young people and the small screen:

1. Young people are watching much less TV news than they did a decade ago. In 2001, 72 percent of people aged 18 to 29 picked TV as one of their top two sources for news; in 2013, that number dropped to 55 percent. The Internet is now the main source of news for everyone under 50, and it's not just Millennials driving traffic to the web. 2013 was the first time that 30- to 49-year-olds said that they got just as much news from the Internet as they did from TV.

over 50.png

From the Pew Center for the People and the Press July 2013 Political Survey.

2. They don't sit still for hour-long news binges. Close to 80 percent of people aged 18-29 said they like to check the news in spurts throughout the day instead of tuning in at a regular time, like for the five o'clock news. The people who most regularly sit down to watch long news shows are older. This is especially true for cable news -- half of people over 65 said they watch regularly, compared to less than a quarter of people under 30.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 12.42.05 PM.png

From the Pew Research Center's "Trends in News Consumption: 1991 to 2012" report.

3. They're not watching Hannity. Cable news is particularly known for its "talking heads" business model: Largely partisan show hosts who provide commentary on current affairs or interview guests. But this model isn't drawing younger crowds, apparently; Millennials make up only a tenth of the audiences for Hannity, The O'Reilly Factor, and The Rachel Maddow Show. On the other hand, maybe young people do like talking heads, only more cynical: People aged 18-29 make up about 40 percent of the audience for both The Colbert Report and The Daily Show.

4. They don't believe what they see on cable news. In a 2012 Pew survey, only 45 percent of Millennials said they could believe stories aired on Fox News. 55 percent said they could believe stories on MSNBC, and 63 percent said they could believe stories on CNN. Also interesting: The older the audience, the less they seem to believe. Only 38 percent of people over 65 said they believed stories aired on MSNBC.

5. But in general, Millennials think journalists keep political leaders in check. In 2011, only 56 percent of people aged 18 to 29 believed that press criticism keeps politicians from doing stuff they shouldn't be doing. In 2013, that percentage ballooned to 75 percent. This echoes a trend in the overall public -- since hitting a low point in the late 90s, people's perceptions of media's watchdog role have gone up significantly.


From the Pew Center for the People and the Press July 2013 Political Survey.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Emma Green is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the National Channel, manages’s homepage, and writes about religion and culture.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

In a series of candid video interviews, women talk about self-image, self-judgment, and what it means to love their bodies

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in Business

Just In