Old people love to read the news on the iPad. So says a new study by the Reynolds Journalism Institute, which finds that while youngsters like to read the news on their phones, adults in the ancient 35-and-up demographic favor large-media tablets. And while the smartphone crowd checks headlines throughout the day, half of those who prefer tablets do the bulk of their news reading at home, after 5 p.m.
In short, the iPad and its kin are helping a large and growing segment of the population to buck the 24-hour news cycle. Instead, they’re returning to a more leisurely, old-fashioned way of consuming the day’s news—not over coffee in the morning, but on the couch after work. That presumably leaves them time to savor long narratives and investigative reports—formats that media-watchers once feared would perish in the no-attention-span Internet age.
And in a blow to those nostalgic for newsprint, 60 percent of tablet owners say they prefer the news-reading experience on their tablet to that of a printed paper. They prefer it to TV news and the radio by even larger margins. That may be why they report reading more news overall than non-tablet owners.
This all might excite media executives who are pinning their hopes on tablets. Those who read their news mainly on a tablet are much more likely to subscribe to digital news products than those who read it on a smartphone.
Still, no one should expect tablets—or any other modern gadget—to resuscitate the business models that once sustained daily p.m. newspapers in every major U.S. city. For a good synopsis of why they died, check out this American Journalism Review postmortem from 1991. Instead, the growing tablet-news market seems likely to eat into the remaining audiences of evening TV newscasts, while perhaps nibbling on the dog-eared corners of the morning newspaper industry.