Staring at multi-million-dollar news sets boasting high production value and name recognition, it is easy to believe the mainstream news media is far larger and more influential than it truly is. James Earl Jones’ robust voice assures us that CNN is “the most trusted name in news,” as CNN broadcasts in airports and public schools across the nation. And each day the Associated Press releases a notice to editors of what tomorrow’s New York Times front page stories will be. Nevertheless, these outlets no longer dominate people’s consumption of news the way they once did. In fact, consumers are increasingly abandoning mainstream media outlets in favor of network societies that share news through virtual communities.
Despite projected earnings of $1.59 billion in operating revenue by SNL Kagan, CNN’s ratings are abysmal. According to Nielsen Media Research’s ratings for the second quarter of 2018, CNN had an average of 658,000 day viewers and 929,000 nightly primetime viewers. This places CNN primetime below the Home and Garden channel (HGTV), ranking 10th overall among cable networks. Nevertheless, this was CNN’s third best second quarter in 23 years among total day viewers.
In comparison, MSNBC crushed CNN this quarter with 930,000 day viewers and 1,736,000 primetime viewers. And Fox News led the pack with 1,409,000 day viewers and 2,447,000 primetime viewers. Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity continue to compete with one another as these networks’ top shows.
The cumulative primetime viewers among our nation’s only three cable news networks are a mere 5,112,000, and the average viewer age is above the age of 60. More people watch late night comedians than regularly tune into the top cable news networks. Sadly, many have even opted to receive their news through these late night comedy satires.
The numbers among network nightly news shows, including CBS, NBC, and ABC, are considerably better but still underwhelming. In the first quarter of 2018, ABC boasted 9,403,000 total viewers, NBC 8,898,000 viewers, and CBS 6,878,000 viewers. Among the coveted 25–54 demographic, ABC attracted 1,986,000 viewers, NBC 2,107,000 viewers, and CBS 1,473,000 viewers. Cumulatively, below the age of 55, these networks only reach 5,556,000 viewers. While considerably greater than the cumulative figure among cable news networks—boasting a mere 1,084,000 viewers below the age of 55—this is still a shockingly low number considering that approximately 129 million people between the ages of 25 and 54 live in America. Put another way, primetime cable and nightly news shows only reach about 5% of those in our nation between the ages of 25 and 54.
In the world of print news, the numbers are also surprising. While newspapers such as The New York Times attract many occasional readers, only 3.5 million subscribe to The Times digitally and in print. And approximately 350,000 of these are overseas. Similarly, 1 million digitally subscribe to The Washington Post, and 1.27 million to The Wall Street Journal. These newspapers are digital goliaths compared to others, such as The Los Angeles Times, which is the leading regional daily newspaper with 105,000 digital paid subscribers, and The Boston Globe with 90,000 subscribers.
In short, the biggest names in news all reach surprisingly small audiences, despite enormous production budgets and slick advertisement campaigns. This is significant in an era where anyone can build a substantial following using platforms such as blogs, podcasts, print-on-demand, Facebook Live, Twitter, and more. Some have been exceptionally successful on these platforms, such as Ben Shapiro with his 1.27 million Twitter followers and 15 million podcast downloads per month. Others have joined forces such as the citizen journalists publishing on the newly launched Corsi Nation.
Increasingly, the playing field of information is being leveled. With little technical know-how and financial investment, anyone can make their voice heard at a time when people are abandoning the biggest names in news in search of alternative news sources. This begs the question, “What are you doing to make your voice heard?” Each and every one of us has been granted a unique opportunity to be relevant and influential voices in society through these platforms. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of this?
People are searching for truth and reliable information. Rather than rant among our friends or shout at our televisions and radios, perhaps it is time to seriously consider channeling our thoughts into something productive. Perhaps it is time to finally write that book, to start a blog, to begin a podcast, or whatever best fits your personality and giftings. Today we have been granted megaphones for our voices; let’s take advantage of it while it lasts!
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26. Schwartz, Jason. “Ben Shapiro to Take His Podcast to Radio.” Politico, March 29, 2018. Accessed August 2, 2018. https://www.politico.com/story/2018/03/29/ben-shapiro-radio-podcast-490973.
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