The habit of reading news

It is remarkable than in an environment of constant change and convulsion such as the media landscape habit strength is one of the most powerful predictors for news consumption.

Habits, rituals, patterns; they all seem to require a recurrent practice that is bound in time for long enough in order to settle. But if we know something from the current media use is that one of the few constants is change. Media consumption is on the rise but it is spreading itself into different media channels. Traditional formats have been getting the wrong end of the stick when transitioning to the digital era. First it was music, then books, and during the last years, news. The time of Sunday-mornings reading the paper is closing to a slow end as a new generation of users is embracing digital media. Devices, formats and services are evolving at a pace that is difficult to make a coherent argument on the future of news media. Younger audiences (the so-called millennials) have started to challenge the meaning of what news is as they close in to mobile perpetual connectivity. Traditional news consumption, both in paper and digital has started to decline, but this does not necessarily mean that younger audiences are uninformed. It simply means that they don’t get their news from legacy media. The usual suspects are social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), new news services (Buzzfeed, Mashable, Pulse), but even entertaining shows like the Colbert Report and the Daily Show (it will be interesting to see what feels this void, now that the Colbert Report is over, and that Jon Stewart is leaving the Daily Show at the end of the year).

News uses different channels, dresses in different clothes, entices the public in a different way, and is normally embedded with entertainment in a much more overtly manner. Anyone who has had an eye on news media for long enough could argue that old news carried a good deal of entertainment, a large of tabloid aura, and good dose of commercial bias. But the difference now is that the new kids in the news business are open about it, they lack the old news’ values and norms, and have direct access to a new generation of media users that are reluctant to accept the traditional hint of arrogance that certain legacy outlets carry with themselves. I will not make judgments on whether this is better or worse. The impending death of journalism would imply that it was once alive, and if that was ever of value to the public, then legacy media does well trying to capitalize on that added value, because it is probably one of the few vantage points it has left.

The coming years are going to be particularly interesting to see whether the new environment of constant change is the new norm or the new well-established actors are here to stay. Of course, media habits will depend on it. Never-ending change could also create a habit.The habit of never having a “usual source” of news, of constantly retrieving information through different channels, of finally transcending place and making news consumption an entirely mobile and random act with behavior patterns that would impress Jackson Pollock. It’s a wait-and-see game. Or who knows, from now on, it might be a wait-and-wait game.

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