Legacy Media is Almost Dead, Long Live Legacy Media: 20 Years of College Student Single Source Preference for News about the Military

Two major social institutions occupied the American public for the past 20 years—the military and the media. The military had been at war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. The media splintered into various forms including mass, social, and legacy media along with alternative, personalized, and fake news.

We have 20 years of data starting in 2002 asking American college students including civilian, ROTC, and Academy cadets: “If you had to choose only one information media source for yourself about the military, what would it be (write in anything you like but please be specific–don’t simply put “the internet” or “a newspaper”)?” Rather than a laundry list, we left the question open-ended. We then coded 10,501 news source responses into 57 categories from ABC News and BBC to USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.

The Top Ten single media source in order are Other (14.1%); the New York Times (14%); CNN (12%); Fox News (9.2%); NBC Nightly News (8.2%); Army Times (8.1%); Military Times (3.5%); internet (2.8%); BBC (2.5%); and social media (2.2%). The remaining 47 categories came in at less than two percent including ABC News; NPR; local news broadcasts; and the Washington Post

Overall, you might be surprised by the large number of Others. Others is high because in our coding it became necessary as a catchall category for a huge range of specific media sources such as 60 Minutes; the Huffington Post; War on the Rocks; non-fiction books; Duffleblog; and family members among a host of popular but also obscure others.  In the last 10 years the category has included more specific examples of social media such as Instagram and Twitter. Also, you might be surprised that Millennials and Gen Z are low on social media and internet consumption. But remember, the internet and social media are young.  The chart above tracks the top ten single sources over 20 years. Now the picture becomes clearer for the generations as sources are seen to rise and decline over the first quarter of the 21st century.

The Other (red line) sources have been rising since 2014 and have overtaken all media sources. Again, Other sources of media now include Instagram and Twitter among others.  It shows how news sources have splintered even more for undergraduates. The New York Times (brown dash) has dropped off dramatically since 2014.  Fox News (purple line) peaked in 2005 and has dropped off and stabilized in the last decade.  NBC Nightly News (blue dotted-dash line) crashed and burned in 2017—about the time a tweet by President Trump chastised them as “fake news.” BBC (orange line) showed promise from 2013 to 2017 and then fizzled with NBC Nightly News. CNN (gray line) started out popular with the century, fell and rose, and then crumpled dramatically as a military media source since 2014. Social Media (dark dotted line) and the internet (light blue line) both blast off in 2016 and are moving at the same pace with Other sources (of course these sources are somewhat commingled). The Military Times (green line) began rising in 2014. Likewise, the Army Times (dark blue line) has been somewhat erratic with some upward movement in recent years. Both latter have an internet presence now and should continue in popularity.  They will compete for elbow room in the social media space with an array of sources as they all seek to inform American youth about military matters. Where do you get your news about the military?

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