CNN's 'AC370' and the Real Value of News

 In a week when CNN should be re-titling Anderson Cooper's nightly "AC360" show into "AC370" - to reflect its obsessive coverage of Malaysia Air's lost flight 370, The Media Insight Project issued a comprehensive report on the ways American get their news and what it's worth. Indeed, the All-370-All-The-Time network (previously known as CNN) might use the report to evaluate its latest compulsion.

Yet the Media Insight report put together by American Press Institute (API) with the Associated Press and NORC (National Opinion Research Center) at the University of Chicago, paints a very mixed picture about the future of news.  Curiously, the minds behind CNN seem to have recognized the trends even before this Media Insight report was assembled, as evidenced by the recent repositioning of Headline News  (once known as CNN Headline News) into HLN, "the news and views network."  

The API report, not surprisingly, confirms that "the majority of Americans across generations now combine a mix of sources and technologies to get their news each week." Also unsurprising is the finding that nearly 90% of Americans get some news from TV (cable and broadcasting), but coming up fast are computer and laptops, used by nearly 70% of us, with radio (65%) and newspapers/magazines (60%) further down the list. The study notes that "the rapid growth in mobile technology is changing the mix," finding that 78% of smartphone users and 73% of tablet users look at news.

API's study does not look at specific channels or publications, although it notes that among viewers who watch TV newscasts, 82% tune into their local TV news stations either through broadcast or online. More specifically, 73% of viewers cite the three national network broadcast news operations and 62% mention 24-hour cable news channels (such as Fox News, CNN or MSNBC) as sources of news, either on television or online.

The hefty API report delves into behaviors, such as discovery of news stories, and appetites for various kinds of news and information (political, international headliens, weather, traffic, arts/entertainment, etc.)

Recognizing the growing role of social media, including "word of mouth" discovery, the study finds that 60% of news junkies ("avid news consumers" in the report's elegant wording) rely on established news organizations, versus about 42% of people who follow news "a little or not at all."  By contrast, social media and WOM far outpace established media among the later group.

Overall, 4 in 10 Americans say they receive their news during a typical week via platforms such as Twitter or Facebook. There are distinct age variables: 7 of 10 adults under age 30 say they learned  news through social media; the numbers drop to 6 of 10 for people in their 30s; 4 in 10 for people in the 40s and 50s; and 1 in 5 for people age 60 and older.

"Social media has become a significant part of the news consumption habits for many Americans across generations," according to API, explaining somewhat defensively that "social media appears to be largely adding to, rather than replacing, other ways that people get news."

Perhaps most significantly, the study looks "trust" - and it's not a particularly pretty picture.

"Local TV news stations" rank highest at 52% who "trust information they get" from there. The trust factor then slides to radio 48%; newspapers and the three broadcast networks 47% each; cable 44%; magazines (print or online) 40%.  Online-only sources of the news such as Yahoo! News, BuzzFeed and The Huntington Post plus blogs score in the 25% "trust" range.

The report offer hopeful insight about younger generations' interest in news: 60% of "adults under age 30" look at news at least daily.  That compares to 75% for Americans of all ages. API says the data also challenge the so-called "filter bubble" concept, that people only follow a few topics in which they are interested and only from sources with which they agree.  Yet one chart that differentiates  how "Partisans are more attentive to the news but differ in the types of news sources they rely on and trust," there is a distinct political difference. Among the eight media sources (local TV, national TV networks, newspapers, radio, online, etc.) only 24-hour cable news channels score higher with Republicans than with Democrats.  For the all-news channels, 70% of Republicans, 60% of Democrats and 50% of Independents said they looked at such a channel during the sample week.  

And when it comes to making money: "most Americans do not pay for news, and those who do tend to purchase print media," says API. Only 26% of Americans report that they currently pay for any news, the study found.

Which brings us back to the question - not asked in the API study - how much would you pay to know constantly about the hunt for the lost Malaysian plane?

Gary Arlen ponders media, telecom and tech policy issues at Arlen Communications LLC:

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.