November 13, 2023

News stories – is print or audio the way to go?

Posted by Laura Guertin

Pew Research Center conducts frequent surveys about news consumption across demographic groups and mediums. One recent report may not serve as a surprise:



The article Americans are following the news less closely than they used to (October 24, 2023) shows that for the age demographic of my undergraduate students (ages 18-29 years), only 19% follow the news closely.

Where are those 19% getting their news? Most likely, they are not reading the print edition of a newspaper, as the Newspapers Fact Sheet (November 10, 2023) shows the following:



There is some data on digital consumption on newspaper websites, as the Digital News Fact Sheet (November 10, 2023).


The vast majority of adults in the United States get at least some news from digital devices, and the online space has become a host for the digital homes of both legacy news outlets and new, “born on the web” news outlets. – Pew Research Center (2023)


There is a growing source of news (and entertainment) across all demographics – and that source is audio.


The Spoken Word Audio Report

Although not focused on just the news, the most recent (2023) Spoken Word Audio Report from NPR and Edison shows that 135 million people listen to spoken word audio each day, which is  30 million more people than nine years ago. Each year, this number continues to increase. The report also found that 60% of total daily time spent with spoken word audio happening at home, with the largest share of daily spoken word audio listening — 39% — being done via mobile phone. (Here’s a link to a webinar describing the report)


48% of people in the U.S. 13+ listen to spoken word audio daily


What does this mean for our science students/classes?

When I think about how I emphasize what myself and colleagues refer to as current event literacy (see GeoEd Trek post), I wonder if we are bringing breaking news stories in our discipline in the best way to students – in other words, are we meeting students where they are? Universities have newspaper readership programs where students can access free, daily editions of issues of local-to-national newspapers. At Penn State University, their Student News Readership Program went completely digital in 2020.

But knowing there is an increase in audio consumption by the age demographic of our students, should spoken word news stories be an addition to a Student News Program? Last year’s Spoken Word Audio Report (2022) stated that there was a 214% increase in share of spoken word audio listening among Gen Z (ages 13-24) since 2014. Perhaps instead of introducing science news updates from print or digital sources, we tap into the availability of news via audio to engage students to listen to recent science stories. Maybe more will engage with news stories if we use audio editions and thereby increase their engagement in current science events.

It is an idea to try out in our courses – instead of assigning students to read articles in print/online, perhaps have them “listen” to articles instead. For my introductory-level, general education courses, the science podcasts/news stories on this list are an excellent start.