The web is closing in on television as a news source for U.S. adults, but the Pew Research Center points to signs that local TV news still has a healthy standing and engenders more trust among viewers.
LAS VEGAS — Here’s the good news for TV broadcasters in a growing digital world: Local TV news is still the most common place where Americans get their news.
And here’s the rub: “That’s slowly changing,” said Michael Barthel, research associate for the Pew Research Center.
Speaking at the NAB Show’s Digital Futures Exchange on Sunday, Barthel painted a picture for local TV news that had a few dark clouds looming for an industry that was nonetheless well leveraged to handle the rain.
First, those clouds: A 19-point gap in U.S. adults who turn to TV as a source for news over digital in 2016 narrowed to 7 points in 2017, with local TV news seeing the sharpest decline with a 9-point drop in viewership in that year.
Older Americans are actually driving the shift toward digital, though 18-29-year-olds are reliably showing their digital preferences. Only 18% of that demographic often gets its local news from TV, Pew found.
But TV’s endurance remains the larger narrative. “Although lots of people get their news online, there are various signs that it isn’t as important to [viewers] as legacy brands,” Barthel said.
Fifty percent of U.S. adults still prefer to get their news from TV as opposed to 43% online, and of those who prefer watching their news (rather than reading it), 80% preferred it on TV to only 12% online, suggesting that the web is still seen by many adults as a text-first experience.
As to how television news is squaring off against social media, clear winners and losers are harder to suss out. Two-thirds of U.S. adults got their news from social media sites in 2017, a number that has been steadily increasing. Forty-five percent got their news from Facebook (of the 66% who say they use the site), while YouTube followed with a distant 18% (with 58% of adults using it) and 11% getting news from Twitter (of the 15% using it).
But even though adults may be getting their news from those platforms increasingly, only 5% of them say they trust them “a lot” against 20% trust in national news organizations and 25% in local news organizations.
Muddying the social waters is the proliferation of fake news. Sixty-four percent of U.S. adults say it has caused a great deal of confusion, and 23% of people admit that they’ve shared fake news themselves, both knowingly and inadvertently.
Barthel cautioned against seeing social media’s growth solely at TV’s expense. “There’s a temptation to see online versus legacy as a competition,” he said, stressing the heavy legacy presence in all of that online news.
He pointed to 2017 data around immigration-related news online as an example of that legacy endurance. Forty-two percent of 1,030 most linked-to sites on the issue were news organizations, he said, and 75% of 9.7 million tweets on the subject contained at least one link to a news organization.
Read all of TVNewsCheck‘s NAB 2018 news here.