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The Media Insight Project study found 20-somethings likelier to follow up when they hear something big is happening.
"They’re the sort of on-demand news generation," Rosenstiel said.
Americans get that first word an assortment of ways. Traditional news operations still dominate, but word of mouth, email and text messages, Facebook and Twitter, and electronic news alerts also come into play.
Most people say they have more confidence in a story when they get it directly from a news-gathering operation. But their media habit doesn’t include paying for it — only about a fourth have paid subscriptions.
Nine out of 10 watched some type of TV news in the previous week. Newspapers, including online editions, and radio news each reached more than half the country. Online-only news sources such as Yahoo! News and Buzzfeed reached nearly half.
People flit across the news landscape, depending on what they’re seeking, the study found.
Wonder why local newscasts seem fixated on crime, traffic, weather and health warnings? That’s why viewers go there.
Cable TV channels draw the most people looking for foreign news, politics, social issues and business stories.
Readers prefer newspapers — online or in print — for local news, stories about schools and education, and arts and culture coverage. Among news sources, newspapers have the widest range of topics that attract a significant number of people.
Americans most often turn to specialty media these days for their sports, entertainment news, and science and technology coverage. When a natural disaster strikes, they turn on the TV.
"People of all generations are picking and choosing the media that fit their needs at the moment and the story they’re trying to follow," said Rosenstiel.
"Consumers are becoming more in control," he said, "and not simply reacting to what is thrown at us."
The survey was conducted Jan. 9 through Feb. 16, 2014 by NORC at the University of Chicago with funding from the American Press Institute. It involved landline and cellphone interviews in English or Spanish with 1,492 adults nationwide. Results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
Follow Connie Cass on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ConnieCass
AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this story.
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