Mass Media Audiences in a Changing Media Environment

Article excerpt

A national survey of 1,006 respondents found that 70.3% used local TV news as their primary source of news, followed by network TV news, newspapers, and radio news in that order. Use of talk radio, TV magazines, and grocery store tabloids was far less. A factor analysis showed five factors - TV news, radio, print media, computer media, and tabloids.

Media audience studies in recent years have been narrow in scope. The focus has been largely on newspapers and television at the exclusion of other media. More have dealt with reliance than with use.

Perhaps the agenda has been set by the Roper Organization's studies for the television industry. Those studies, first done in 1959, asked people where they got "most of your news about what's going on in the world today - from newspapers or radio or television or magazines or talking to people or where?"1

While respondents could opt for radio or magazines, most opted for newspapers or television. In the first survey, newspapers edged out television, 57% to 51%, with radio a distant third at 34% and magazines a very distant fourth at 8%. 2 Thus 70% of the responses were either for newspapers or television. In subsequent surveys, the percentage for those two media rose to 77%

By 1963, television had edged ahead of newspapers, 55% to 53%, and the television margin grew continually until it reached 24% in 1985.3 But though the other responses were still there, the Roper studies became more and more about newspapers and television.

It was therefore no surprise that the studies triggered by the Roper studies focused on comparison of newspapers and television. Carter and Greenberg probed the matter of question wording and concluded that the Roper question favored television.4 Lemert found that changing the wording from "what's going on in the world" to "what's going on in Eugene (Oregon) and Lane County"5 changed the results to favor newspapers. Stempel had a similar finding with regard to local news in three Ohio cities.6 Reagan and Ducey found when they asked Lansing, Michigan, respondents about specific kinds of state news, newspapers came out ahead of television.7 Stempel in a national study found that newspapers led television by a wide margin for specific kinds of local news stories.8 However, the two were fairly even for specific kinds of state news. Television led by a wide margin on specific kinds of national news.

While the Roper organization was fairly careful to use the term "reliance," others translated the Roper findings to mean media use. That is probably at least part of the reason that relatively few studies looked at media use.

Yet, Stempel's Ohio study indicated that the two were far from identical. Using the standard Roper wording in his surveys in three Ohio cities, he found television ahead of newspapers by an average of 19%.9 Yet newspapers led television in "yesterday" use by an average of 20%. His study also indicated that assuming reliance and use were the same greatly underestimated use of radio news.

Robinson's study in the mid-1970s set the record straight.10 In a national survey he found that 68% of the respondents had used a newspaper "yesterday," while 52% had used television news. He also found that 50% had used radio news and 28% had used magazines. Both figures were far higher than what the Roper results might have led one to expect.

That study also dealt with another issue. When newspaper circulation actually dropped nearly two million in the early 1970s, a number of studies found that readership by persons under 35 was substantially lower than that of persons over 35. Many jumped to the conclusion that young people were rejecting newspapers in favor of television. If that were the case, the younger generation might be lost to newspapers forever.

What Robinson found was that younger persons used newspapers more than they used television news. Of the respondents under 30, 51% had read a daily newspaper "yesterday," while only 37% had watched television news. …