News & Opinion » Urban Journal

Who produces our news? Does it make a difference?


Where do you get your news?

This country has always needed well-informed citizens, but good grief: It sure needs them today. At the same time, it's getting harder to keep up with the news and be well informed. There's simply too much news, too much complexity.

Where we get our news matters, then.

Many of us may still prefer print, but that hasn't been the dominant news source for a long time. In a 2016 survey by the Pew Research Center (the latest I could find), only 20 percent of American adults said they often get their news from printed newspapers.

Television doesn't provide enough news, with enough context, to help us be good citizens, but for years, it was the top news source for many adults. There's a bit of progress on that front, happily. In a survey last fall, the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of US adults who often get their news from television dropped from 57 percent in 2016 to 50 percent in 2017. And it's older adults who turn to television for news. Only 35 percent of people 30 to 49 – and only 23 percent of those 18 to 29 – said they often get news from television.

Where are people getting their news? You won't be surprised at the answer: online. There are differences by age group, but you can see where we're headed in the Pew report. Only 30 percent of people 65 and over said they often got their news online, but that had increased from 20 percent a year before. Among people 50 to 64, 35 percent got their news online –up from 29 percent the year before.

And among people 18 to 49: 52 percent often got their news online. A fair amount of that news is coming through social media, with Facebook, not surprisingly, leading the pack. This doesn't mean people aren't reading "respectable" news; social media often connect them to articles from traditional news sources – very often, newspapers.

But this is different, clearly, from picking up a newspaper and thumbing through it, or going directly to an online news site and finding an array of different articles to choose from.

And it's no secret that much of what any of us click on online is news or opinion that reinforces what we already believe, whether it's from a professional news organization or one of the numerous partisan email news blasts.

There's a wealth of real news available online, far more than was available 30 years ago. That could be a powerful way to strengthen and protect our democracy. But we have to look for that information, seek out different viewpoints, read about subjects we're not familiar with. That's time-consuming. And we've all grown more impatient, more interested in short bits of news and click-bait entertainment that masquerades as news.

That's no way to protect a democracy.

On a related topic, a note to our print readers: Like newspapers throughout the country, we've been hit with a major increase in our printing bill. The reason is a tariff the US Commerce Department is considering imposing on all newsprint coming from Canada – where much of the newspaper industry's newsprint comes from.

Although a final ruling on the tariff isn't expected until August, US Customs has already started collecting it, and we're now getting higher printing bills. That's requiring us to reduce the number of pages we publish each week.

This comes, of course, at a time when news coverage is increasingly important.

Our creative staff is investigating changes in design and other areas so we can continue to cover the areas we're covering. Over the next several weeks, you'll begin to see some of those changes. It's a work in progress, as we assess options for meeting the journalistic needs of the community. We'll very much welcome and appreciate your comments and suggestions.