Wednesday, May 24, 2006

How Do You Take Your News? Depends On Your Age, Education Level, and Gender

Cross-posted at Feminist Law Professors.

I have to admit to not watching much nightly news--when I'm not sick or suffering from grad student ennui (during which times I can consume many hours of classic movies, bad syndicated sitcoms, and hours of Star Trek: The Next Generation) I limit my TV watching till after 9 pm or so. In general, I don't get my news from TV (and I avoid cable news punditry or "where is that missing white girl" watch in general)--I'm more of an NPR/print media/Internet media kind of girl, which allows me to check about 3 newspapers (LA Times, NY Times, and the Washington Post) a day, in addition to several literary and political magazines a few times a week. I suppose it would be more efficient to just watch a half hour a day. But I wonder how many people my age (25) actually sit down to do so. The reason I get most of my news from the online editions is because I can scan RSS feeds as I type up footnotes or check email. I can take "breaks" from my paper on race conscious pedagogy and gender dynamics and read about, say, the long-awaited legislative resistance to assertions of executive power. I can also check the RSS feeds of at least ten law blogs throughout the day. My productivity probably suffers, and this contributes to my short attention span and strange compulsion to multitask everything--but it's a good way to stay informed throughout the day and it relieves the tedium of writing "Id." or "Cf." over and over again.

But once in a while I'll catch some major news network broadcast, and admire Brian William's permatan. I'll watch Jim Lehrer and wonder why I forget to watch PBS more. I'll catch my nightly local freakout news and find out about bobcats wandering around the suburbia that encroached upon their environment, pedophiles that probably live down the street, and dangerous sex games that my nephew is probably playing. Then there will be the requisite "awww" story about some girlscout, lost-and-found puppy, or heartwarming tale of courtly love, Orange County style. I watch both these shows, and I wonder--what the heck is the demographic each show is targeting?

In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, here are the demographic breakdowns per medium of news consumption and by time of day:
  • Network news audience "are an aging group. A majority (56%) of those age 65 and older say they regularly watch nightly network news; less than a third as many Americans under age 30 (18%) regularly watch these news programs"
  • "The cable news audience is slightly more affluent and well-educated than the network news audience. It also is more Republican: 46% of Republicans regularly watch cable news compared with 31% who watch network news. "
  • "The online news audience is young, affluent and well-educated. More men than women go online to get news, but the gender gap has narrowed in recent years. The increase in online news use since 2002 has been particularly sharp among racial and ethnic minority groups."
  • "While conservatives and liberals seek out different news sources, men and women also have their own distinct preferences. Men are more oriented toward newspapers, radio news, cable television news, and online news. Women are more loyal to the major TV networks, as they are far more likely than men to watch network morning shows like the Today Show and the networks' news magazines, such as 60 Minutes and Dateline. In addition, a higher percentage of women than men now watch a nightly network newscast on CBS, ABC or NBC. There was no gender gap on network news viewership in 2002 and only a slight gap in 2000. "
It feels a bit strange to feel, well, less like a woman simply because I take my news differently. It's like taking your coffee black and strong, because "Shoooot, I'ma Man!" instead of with cream and sugar. But it bothers me that demographics have so much to do with content. I don't watch The Today Show, Good Morning America, or my local news shows because they annoy me so much. I really don't like that conversational, 'round the coffee table conviviality first thing in the morning. Maybe because I'm a nightowl, and tend to stumble bleary-eyed towards my laptop at an hour I do not wish to be awak at and read the headlines with my cup of tea in curmudgeonly silence. I definitely hate the fear segments on my local broadcast, and the silly waste of resources the show spent on some cat with cancer instead of covering some local politics. And don't get me started on my crappy local paper. So all these preferences seem to indicate that I like my news like my coffee--straight up. I don't like bells and whistles, frills, fluff or any of those genderized terms for "extra crap." So does that mean that if you like to read about politics, international relations, and business you're more like a man than woman--or rather, you're more likely to be a man than a woman? Does this suggest that men, in their viewing and reading choices, are more intelligent consumers of news than women? (They don't waste their time on cats) Is this why female-targeted news shows and segments are so dumb and crappy? Do producers assume that women like stupid fluff and thus the quality of the news program is commensurate to that level of taste?

I don't mean to be glib. I am honestly wondering what came first--the crappy taste of the targeted demographic or the crappy news show that promotes such crap. I wonder if all the recent discussion about whether Katie Couric has the sufficient gravitas to be the sole anchor of a nightly news (the flip will be that her fluffy demeanor will attract women viewers). It's great that she'll be the single anchor, voice of God type distiller of news--maybe then producers will finally realize that you do not have to report on crap just because you're a woman, and you don't have to like it just because you're a woman. But I've been hoping for this for a very long time, and even though I am young, I haven't seen as much change as I'd like. I know that Barbara Walters was the first female co-anchor--and then I see commercials for her vapid yearly "Most Interesting People" show. What happened to you, Barbara? Is probing Whitney Houston and getting "Crack is Wack" as a response really journalism to you? Do you honestly think The View is quality television?I watch Diane Sawyer gossip with movie stars. I watch all these smart journalists--Campbell Brown, Meredith Viera (another View victim), Ann Curry--and I think, you are so much more than coffee table chatterboxes. I wish there were more Christiane Amanpours, Nina Totenbergs, Linda Greenhouses, Sylvia Poggiolis, Paula Zahns, Gwen Ifils, and Linda Gradsteins. I wish there was no Natalie Holloway "she's still missing" obsessed Greta Van Susteren, or husky voiced Rita Cosby.

I wish for a lot of things. And I wish Katie Couric luck in her transition from morning to night. I won't be "following" her, since I never started with her in the morning--but I will check her out.