The Gasbag Audience

by digby

Pew has published its annual study of the American news habits and it's as interesting as ever:

A sizable minority of Americans find themselves at the intersection of these two long-standing trends in news consumption. Integrators, who get the news from both traditional sources and the internet, are a more engaged, sophisticated and demographically sought-after audience segment than those who mostly rely on traditional news sources. Integrators share some characteristics with a smaller, younger, more internet savvy audience segment - Net-Newsers - who principally turn to the web for news, and largely eschew traditional sources.


Like web-oriented news consumers, Integrators are affluent and highly educated. However, they are older, on average, than those who consider the internet their main source of news. Overall, Integrators spend more time with the news on a typical day than do those who rely more on either traditional or internet sources; far more enjoy keeping up with the news a lot than in any other news segment.

Integrators also are heavier consumers of national news - especially news about politics and Washington - and are avid sports news consumers. Television is their main news source, but more than a third cite the internet as their primary source of news during the day. This reflects the fact that a relatively large proportion of Integrators log on to the internet from work (45%).

The 2008 biennial news consumption survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press was conducted by telephone - including both landline phones and cell phones - from April 30 to June 1 among 3,612 adults nationwide. It finds four distinct segments in today's news audience: Integrators, who comprise 23% of the public; the less populous Net-Newsers (13%); Traditionalists - the oldest (median age: 52) and largest news segment (46% of the public); and the Disengaged (14%) who stand out for their low levels of interest in the news and news consumption.

Net-Newsers are the youngest of the news user segments (median age: 35). They are affluent and even better educated than the News Integrators: More than eight-in-ten have at least attended college. Net-Newsers not only rely primarily on the internet for news, they are leading the way in using new web features and other technologies. Nearly twice as many regularly watch news clips on the internet as regularly watch nightly network news broadcasts (30% vs. 18%).


This web-oriented news segment, perhaps more than the others, underscores the challenges facing traditional news outlets. Fewer than half (47%) watch television news on a typical day. Twice as many read an online newspaper than a printed newspaper on a typical day (17% vs. 8%), while 10% read both.

However, Net-Newsers do rely on some well known traditional media outlets. They are at least as likely as Integrators and Traditionalists to read magazines such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic, and somewhat more likely to get news from the BBC.


Fully 82% of Net-Newsers get news during the course of the day, far more than the Traditionalists and the Disengaged, and slightly more than the Integrators. Nearly all who get news at this time go online for information (92%). Yet they do tap traditional sources at other times of the day; nearly two-thirds get news late in the evening and of these, more rely on television news than the internet.

Despite sweeping changes in the news landscape, Traditionalists remain the largest segment of the overall news audience. Compared with the Integrators and Net-Newsers, Traditionalists are downscale economically - 43% are not employed and 60% have no more than a high school education.

Television dominates as the favored news source among Traditionalists. And at each time of the day - whether morning, daytime, dinner hour, or late at night - overwhelming majorities who get news at these times cite television as their main source. Unlike the news Integrators, or those who mostly get news from the web, most Traditionalists say that seeing pictures and video, rather than reading or hearing the facts, gives them the best understanding of events.

Most Americans fall into the three core news audiences - Integrators, Traditionalists, or Net-Newsers. The fourth group - the Disengaged - are very much bystanders when it comes to news consumption. They are less educated on average than even the Traditionalists and exhibit extremely low interest in - and knowledge of - current events. Just 55% of the Disengaged get any news on a typical day, and just 20% know that the Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives.

Sadly, there are as many Disengaged as there are Net-Newsers, so they pretty much cancel each other out. That leaves the other two, the largest of which is the "traditionalists" who not only get their news from television, they mostly get it from the images not the words.

I know that most of you are far to busy and too well informed about the issues and the real news to waste time watching the crap the Entertainment Industrial Complex churns out for the rest of the folks, which is why both dday and I spend a lot of time dissecting the television gasbags. It's partially to understand what they are all saying to each other in their tight little feedback loop, but it's also to try to see what the TV news watchers are seeing. Keep in mind that these aren't necessarily stupid people (although some are --- they exist in all groups of humans) but that they simply choose to use television as their primary source of news, which, considering how much of it is available, isn't all that surprising. People who don't have jobs that feature computers or have the time to spend online, naturally put the TV on in the background or sit down to decompress for a bit when they can, and consume their news passively.

And that's where the Village media really has an impact. Their willingness to allow themselves to be conduits --- in words as well as pictures --- for these phony GOP images and manufactured story lines makes them defacto tools of the right wing, who spend many millions developing campaigns for the consumption of fellow villagers --- to disseminate to that 46%.

Here's James Moore talking about Karl Rove a few years back:

He once told a consultant that we interviewed for "Bush's Brain" that you should run every political campaign as though people are watching television with the sound turned down. And toward that end, you rely heavily on imagery and not very much on substance, knowing that if the President is photographed in a school of minority and ethnic children, and is interested in their future in that particular photo op, that people will trust that image. And they don't go beyond that image to look at his policy, which is signing the "Leave No Child Behind Act" in a big, high-profile moment with Senator Ted Kennedy, and then gutting the heart out of that bill with the funding that he offers up for it.

The President has become very good at these phony linkages. For instance, you'll see him running around talking about the tax bill, saying we need to get it passed so that we can create jobs for people. Factually, this tax bill -– there's not an economist in America or a successful business person, Warren Buffet among them, who believes that getting rid of the taxation of dividends is going to create jobs anytime in the near future, and ostensibly in the long term. But if the President says it over and over enough, people will believe it, just as Karl Rove got him to say over and over that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11.

At time of the war in Iraq, the Pew survey showed 61 percent of Americans believed the canard about Iraq. So the whole concept is to speak as though you are a compassionate, sensitive, caring guy, and create these photo opportunities that prove that. But do whatever you want to do when you govern, because the public isn't paying very close attention. And they've gotten away with it thus far.

Cheney famously said "Reagan proved deficits don't matter. This is our due" I think he actually meant Reagan proved the facts don't matter, do what ever you want...

And they use the same willing tools to smear their opponents and these days the television types even dutifully run a chyron at the bottom of the screen to help those who aren't paying attention know how to interpret the pictures they are seeing. Over the week-end, CNN had numerous segments featuring the Corsi book, all of them accompanied by little factoids on the bottom of the screen featuring the name of the book and some of the charges contained within it. It mattered not at all what the talking heads were blathering about to those who just saw the screen shot while they were passing by a television screen. They got the name of the book and the author and that it says Obama is a phony and a liar. That's all the Republicans ever wanted.

Thank goodness for Media Matters and FAIR and others for doing the daily drudgery of tracking and compiling all this stuff -- no pun intended. Their great columnists also like to discuss and analyze the effect TV news has on politics and what we might do about it, as do I. I'm not sure we are entirely successful, but I do think it's necessary. There are still many more people who are informed by Brian Williams and Meredith Viera than by Josh Marshall or Glenn Greenwald. We need to understand what they're being told.

Luckily, the other segments of the new consumers are growing and perhaps we will soon be in a world where more people get informed from the internet than TV. It's certainly an improvement over the passive TV consumer model, even in the partisan echo chambers, especially since the TV gasbags have become parodies of themselves in ways that even Paddy Chayefsky couldn't have imagined.