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Public Attitudes

Public Attitudes

News magazines occupy a valued place in the life of most of their readers. They are a mass medium. But they are rarely the primary source for information about the events that shape the world, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center. Television, radio, newspapers and the Internet are more likely to be the places where individuals learn about the news. News magazines have always been a more analytical forum, a synthesis of news, analysis and opinion. Their readers tend to be a more select group of people who are interested in news. Readers’ opinions, then, may matter more to these magazines than to other media. Since they are not the primary source of news and they revolve around analysis, they are also arguably more easily dropped by readers who feel they don’t need them. Among the survey findings:

Without question, the number of news sources has multiplied in the past decade. And the rise of the Internet combined with the proliferation of 24-hour cable television networks has changed the way people get news. Not only is instant information available, but so are instant analysis and instant opinion as well. Magazines have borne some of the toughest hits in this information revolution, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

News Sources People Use Most Often
Survey Question: Which (news) sources are you using more often?
Design Your Own Chart
Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, ’’Media Attitudes/ Youth Engagement/ Religion After 9/11’’ Nov. 13 – 19, 2001

The survey measured what news sources respondents were using more often. Magazines, which were the choice of 23 percent of poll respondents in 1995, fell all the way to 4 percent in 2001, a drop of 83 percent.1 Other media took hits as well, but readers seem to find magazines most expendable.

The shift at the big news magazines was in a way meant to counter this. The diminishing focus on actual news reportage made way for more analysis and opinion. But these figures suggest that effort was not wholly successful.

A Pew Research Center question asked where respondents got most of their news. While news magazines have never been seen as a primary news source, particularly during breaking events, it seems to be even less so since the September 11 terrorist attacks. From 1991 to just before the 2001 attacks, an average of 6.5 percent of respondents said they got their international news from magazines. From immediately after the attacks until October 2003, that number had dropped to 2.9 percent.2

It could be that during this time readers had come to believe that the speed at which news moves had changed and that magazines were less relevant to them. But it also could be that this is a short-lived phenomenon that dissipates over time.

The bright spot for magazines may come from what readers think of their work. In a Pew Research survey done in September 2001, shortly before the terrorist attacks, 51 percent of respondents gave Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report an “A” or a “B” grade in overall coverage. That number is at least competitive with most of the major media.1

Grading News Coverage, 2001
Percentage giving each medium an A or B grade
Design Your Own Chart
Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, ’’America’s Place in the World III,’’ Aug. 21 – Sept. 5, 2001
*Survey question: What grade, A, B, C, D or F, would you give [media name] for its/their overall news coverage these days?

Local television news scored and A or a B with 57 percent, network news and local newspapers 56 percent, and cable television news 67 percent. Magazines came in ahead of the category of large, nationally influential newspapers, at 40 percent.4

The good news for magazines then, is that readers think the news magazines are doing a relatively good job of presenting information. The bad news is that this doesn’t seem to be keeping readers. And that bad news is more troubling. It suggests that people are less interested in magazines largely because of personal time constraints or the speed at which news is moving or both.

Footnotes

1. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Media Attitudes, Youth Engagement, Religion After 9/1. Question 57.

2. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, October 2003 News Interest Index. Question 8.

3. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, America’s Place in the World, III. Question 11.

4. Ibid