Joyce Terhaar

Joyce Terhaar: We’re evaluating our coverage to better reflect readers’ needs

For all you young digital natives out there who snicker at your elders’ use of computers or phones: Your grandparents are catching up to you. A survey released last week by the Media Insight Project debunked a common presumption that those of you who describe yourself as grandparents or retired have very different news consumption habits from readers in their 20s and early 30s.

You know the stereotype: Older readers continue to read their daily newspaper or watch television news, while their children or grandchildren use computers or smartphones to find their news. Like many stereotypes, it turns out this one isn’t true.

My 84-year-old father blew up that stereotype for me last weekend when I saw him reading his AOL news feed. He still reads the paper and watches the evening news.

That puts him in good company. The American Press Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research combined efforts for the Media Insight Project survey to find that “most Americans of all ages are now cross-platform, multi-source news consumers.”

Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute, said the survey found that a majority of Americans use five devices or platforms each week to get their news, including print and TV. The average American adult uses four.

And, perhaps most revealing of all: “Most people have no preference about what form of media they use,” Rosenstiel told a group of editors and journalism educators in Chicago last week at a joint conference of the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors.

We might read the paper in the morning, keep updated all day on a smartphone or our work computer and then watch television news in the evening. It’s a matter of convenience and personal preference. It’s also a matter of news, and the topics people follow.

While the survey revealed only small differences in news consumption across age, political party, socioeconomic status and gender, it found notable racial and ethnic differences. (The survey isn’t perfect; it doesn’t break out our multiracial population or Asian American groups, instead focusing on African American and Hispanic populations.)

The good news first: Rosenstiel said that predictions of a digital divide, in which some communities of color would not have access to technology, have been unfounded.

African Americans and Hispanics, the two largest minority groups in the U.S., use technology to obtain news at similar rates to the overall population. They use smartphones to get their news at higher rates than the white population.

Where the Media Insight Project found concern was in media coverage. Given that anyone can cheaply become a publisher in today’s online world, media futurists had predicted that communities of color would see more coverage to suit their interests. That hasn’t happened.

Instead, given upheaval in print and local television, “demand (for news) way outstrips supply,” said Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media.

“It isn’t only demographics, it’s also geography,” Close said. “Places like Richmond, with no print let alone television, let alone online or a radio platform of its own. You have an ocean of information and growing media deserts where people have very limited access to news that gives them a sense of how they connect to each other and the world.”

Close said she read the report as “powerful encouragement” of everyday journalism that “allows people to see themselves in a very complex world and feel a validation of their lives.”

I read the report as affirmation of The Sacramento Bee’s ongoing work to ensure we cover topics of interest to all of you, and that we make that news available in many different places.

To that end, we’ve launched a project with the American Press Institute to review what we cover and why. We’ll be surveying our customers and others throughout the region to ensure we understand what issues are of most concern to you.

We’ll evaluate whether our coverage has evolved enough with changes in the region. For instance, data journalist Phillip Reese recently reported a story revealing health care industry employment has grown 60 percent since 2000, to 83,000 workers. While Sacramento long has been known as a state worker town, Reese wrote, you could also call it a health worker town. Earlier this year, Reese reported that more than 1 in 4 people in this region speak a language other than English at home.

Does our coverage reflect these changes? We’ll evaluate these issues and others that arise from our conversations across the region. Want to chime in? Send me an email, contact me on Twitter or keep an eye out for our survey.