Survey: TV still major source of news for Americans

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Television remains a key source of news for Americans even as digital media gains importance, a survey showed Friday.

A Pew Research Center analysis found that 71 percent of Americans watch local television news at home and 65 percent view network newscasts over the course of a month.

Some 38 percent of adults watch cable news, according to Pew, and many of these viewers are highly engaged “news junkies” who spend more time watching than most others.

Pew analyzed data from the ratings agency Nielsen, including Nielsen’s national panel of metered homes.

The findings also show considerable “crossover” of the major cable news channels -- CNN, Fox News and MSNBC -- despite the popular belief that these organizations have polarized viewers through political partisanship.

Pew said 34 percent of those who watch the “liberal” MSNBC in their homes also tune into Fox News Channel, which hosts conservative commentators alongside news programming.

And 28 percent of Fox watchers also check in on MSNBC, the findings showed.

Roughly half of the viewers of those two channels also spend time on CNN.

“The perception is that because of their distinct identities... the cable news channels appeal to different, politically segmented audiences. However the data show something different,” Pew said.

Yet despite some crossover, Pew found some viewers watch only one of the three cable channels. Fox News Channel narrowly has the largest singularly dedicated audience of 24 percent of US adults, while 23 percent watch only CNN and 15 percent MSNBC.

The report showed cable news watchers devote twice as much time to viewing as local and network news viewers.

The findings are in line with a 2012 Pew Research Center survey, which found local television remains the most popular way of accessing news and its annual State of the News Media report showing that nightly network newscasts draw far larger audiences than the primetime cable news shows.

But the new findings indicate that cable news watchers are more highly engaged, which may explain its ability to influence the national debate and news agenda.

Across all platforms, Pew found a large gap between the heaviest news consumers and everyone else. It said the top third of network news viewers average almost 32 minutes a day watching these shows. The next third spends about a sixth as much time, or five minutes, watching network news.

The most dedicated cable news viewers average 72 minutes a day watching, compared with about 32 minutes for the heaviest network news viewers and 22 minutes for the most engaged local news audience.

The report is based on Nielsen data during February 2013.

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