April 7, 2005

Young people with broadband at home have distinctive news consumption habits

Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang recently was quoted in the New York Times saying: “We are venturing boldly, and somewhat blindly, into this world of user-generated content.” For young internet users with high-speed connections at home – that’s about 40% of those age 35 and younger – Yang may be onto something. The way in which young high-speed users went about getting news about the 2004 campaign illustrates his point.

For openers, this group is much more likely than average to generate their own content; 20% of the under 35 high-speed crowd have their own blogs and 37% read blogs. Young high-speed users are also twice as likely as the average to seek out purely online sources of political news and information and read political blogs.

To be sure, young people use the internet to get news from outlets that have strong mainstream media presences. They click on CNN.com rather than watch Judy Woodruff on TV. They read David Brooks online rather than the hard copy of the New York Times. But this group’s predilection to download, forward, and chat with others online about content (some of it of their own making) is congruent with Yang’s forecast about user-generated content.

If you think of news consumption as a pyramid, the base of it is television (mainly local TV) for the average person. Newspapers are one level up, followed by radio and eventually tapering off to specialized sources such as magazines and the internet. Focusing on people under age 35 with high-speed connections at home, the pyramid doesn’t invert, but the base changes a lot. The internet, for news about the 2004 election campaign, is almost as important as TV as a main source of news, with newspapers and radio fading in relative importance.

The pyramid image may not even work very well for young people with high-speed connections. For young people, a few key news sources are not the foundation upon which other news media rest. These highly networked individuals use a fluid network of news sources – some traditional and some not. And they often get content from friends and forward it on to people they know.

Some of the ideas in this commentary come from a talk I gave to the AP Broadcast Board ; the PowerPoint presentation with more extensive data is available here on our Web site.