The term “mainstream media” has long been used to refer to established journalism outlets in the United States. In recent years, it has also been used in a more critical context, including by former President Donald Trump, other politicians and members of the media themselves.
To learn more about how Americans think about the term, Pew Research Center asked a representative sample of U.S. adults whether they consider each of 13 different news outlets to be a part of the mainstream media or not. The outlets were selected to represent a range of audience sizes and sectors.
How we did this
Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand how Americans connect different outlets with the idea of the mainstream news media.
We surveyed 12,045 U.S. adults from March 8 to 14, 2021. Everyone who completed the survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
In the survey, respondents were asked in an open-ended question to volunteer their main source for political news. This allowed respondents to name any source, not limiting them to the specific ones asked about in other survey questions. If respondents volunteered more than one source, the first one mentioned was accepted.
Researchers grouped these open-ended responses together by brand; for instance “NY Times,” “NYT” and “nytimes.com” would all be counted as indicating that The New York Times was the respondent’s main source. Additionally, individual local news sources were grouped together into categories such as “local newspapers” and “local TV.”
In the question that asked respondents which of a list of outlets they consider to be a part of the mainstream news media, outlets were selected from a list of 25 outlets used in a content study of political news coverage (the same list was used in the survey for use of political news; find details about outlet selection here). Outlets included in the question about the mainstream news media were selected to represent a range of audience size and original platform (i.e., television, print, digital or radio).
This is the latest report in Pew Research Center’s ongoing investigation of the state of news, information and journalism in the digital age, a research program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.
Overall, a majority of Americans consider seven of these outlets to be part of the mainstream media. That includes the one national network news outlet included in the analysis (ABC News), all three major cable news outlets asked about (MSNBC, Fox News and CNN) and three legacy print publications: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
The remaining six outlets in the survey – five of which began as digital entities – draw different responses from the public, with a plurality or majority of Americans saying they don’t know enough to decide whether each one is part of the mainstream media or not. Nearly two-thirds of adults (65%), for example, say they don’t know enough to decide whether Vox is part of the mainstream media, while majorities say the same about Newsmax (57%) and Breitbart (56%).
Americans are slightly more likely to say HuffPost is part of the mainstream media than not part of it (37% vs. 20%), while the reverse is true for BuzzFeed (22% vs. 31%) and the Sean Hannity radio show (20% vs. 37%). Still, pluralities say they don’t know enough about each of these outlets to decide.
The survey also asked respondents which of these sources they turned to for political news in the past week.
Respondents who use an outlet for political news are more likely to say that outlet is part of the mainstream media than those who don’t turn to it. For example, 92% of those who got political news from CNN in the past week consider the cable network part of the mainstream media, compared with a smaller share of those who didn’t get political news from CNN (82%).
For some sources, these differences are dramatic. Those who use HuffPost for political news are about twice as likely as those who don’t to say the outlet is part of the mainstream news media (66% vs. 34%). And about a third of those who use Newsmax for political news say it is part of the mainstream media (31%), compared with just 10% of those who don’t use it for news.
Many of these differences are attributable to familiarity with the outlet. For example, 63% of those who don’t turn to Newsmax for political news say they don’t know enough about the outlet to decide whether it is part of the mainstream media or not.
Notably, while the term “mainstream media” has been used in many partisan contexts, there is wide agreement between Republicans and Democrats about whether the outlets in the survey are part of the mainstream news media or not.
One example is Fox News, which often has commentary about the mainstream media in its opinion content. Three-quarters of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents see Fox News as part of the mainstream media, as do 72% of Democrats and Democratic leaners. Some partisan differences do emerge in views of smaller outlets. Republicans, for instance, are twice as likely as Democrats to say Newsmax is part of the mainstream news media, though only small minorities in both parties say this (16% vs. 8%).
Americans’ views of their main sources of news
In addition to asking Americans whether they got political news from various outlets in the past week, the survey also asked respondents in an open-ended question what their main source of political news is. The Center then asked them to decide whether their mainsource of news is part of the mainstream media or not – and whether they think that source presents news differently from most outlets.
Of the main sources named by at least 2% of the public, some interesting distinctions arise. Newsmax stands out because a majority of those who name it as their main source say it is not a part of the mainstream media (84%); only 16% say it is. What’s more, 97% say Newsmax presents news differently than most news organizations.
A different dynamic emerges around Fox News and NPR. About two-thirds of those who say Fox News is their main source for political news (65%) see the network as part of the mainstream media. The same is true of 88% of those who name NPR as their main political news source. Yet majorities in both groups – 80% of those who turn mainly to Fox News and 66% of those who turn mainly to NPR – say each outlet presents news differently than most outlets.
Large majorities of those who turn mainly to other outlets for political news – including local TV, network TV, the other two major cable TV sources (CNN and MSNBC) and The New York Times – see these outlets as part of the mainstream news media, and majorities also say these sources do not present news differently than most news outlets.
Meera Ramshankar provided assistance in open end coding.
Note: Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.
Elisa Shearer is a senior researcher focusing on news and information research at Pew Research Center.
Amy Mitchell is director of journalism research at Pew Research Center.
What are the mainstream media outlets in the US? ›
The four major broadcasters in the U.S. are the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), CBS (formerly the Columbia Broadcasting System), the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and the Fox Broadcasting Company (Fox).What is the mainstream news media? ›
In journalism, mainstream media (MSM) is a term and abbreviation used to refer collectively to the various large mass news media that influence many people and both reflect and shape prevailing currents of thought. The term is used to contrast with alternative media.What news network is the most unbiased? ›
- 1 – Associated Press. Monthly Unique Visitors: 41.90 Million. ...
- 2 – Reuters. Monthly Unique Visitors: 68.10 Million. ...
- 3 – NPR. Monthly Unique Visitors: 82.80 Million. ...
- 4 – BBC. Monthly Unique Visitors: 518.20 Million. ...
- 5 – PBS NewsHour. ...
- 6 – CBS News. ...
- 7 – The Guardian. ...
- 8 – The New York Times.
Mainstream Media. media sources that predate the Internet, such as newspapers, magazines, television, and radio.What companies are mainstream media? ›
Just 37 years ago, there were 50 companies in charge of most American media. Now, 90% of the media in the United States is controlled by just six corporations: AT&T, CBS, Comcast, Disney, Newscorp and Viacom.What is considered mainstream? ›
Mainstream is a term that usually refers to the common current of thought held by the majority, meaning that "mainstream" things are those that are currently popular with most people. It is most often applied in the arts (i.e., music, literature, and performance).What is mainstream vs alternative news? ›
In contrast to mainstream mass media, alternative media tend to be "non-commercial projects that advocate the interests of those excluded from the mainstream", for example, the poor, political and ethnic minorities, labor groups, and LGBT identities.What is the difference between mainstream media and traditional media? ›
The way it is distributed: Traditional media is distributed through channels such as television and radio, while new media is often distributed online. The way it is accessed: Traditional media is typically accessed through broadcast or print, while new media is often accessed through digital channels.What are the most popular news networks by viewers? ›
In February 2023, Fox News was the most watched cable news network in the United States and continues to do well in terms of its primetime audience, with 2.2 million primetime viewers in that period. Fox News viewers in the 25-54 demographic reached 299 thousand, whilst MSNBC had just 119 thousand.Which news outlets are reliable? ›
- The New York Times.
- The Wall Street Journal.
- The Washington Post.
- The Economist.
- The New Yorker.
- Foreign Affairs.
- The Atlantic.
What kind of news is NewsNation? ›
NewsNation. NewsNation is the fastest growing national cable news network reaching 70 million television households across the United States. Validated by independent watchdog groups, NewsNation is America's source for engaging and unbiased news, which reflects the full range of perspectives across the country.What is mainstream bias? ›
Mainstream bias, a tendency to report what everyone else is reporting, and to avoid stories that will offend anyone. Partisan bias, a tendency to report to serve particular political party leaning.What is the meaning of mainstream content? ›
The mainstream media refers to conventional newspapers, television and other news sources that most people know about and regard as reliable.Which social media is mainstream popular? ›
Let's start with the obvious choices. For all its faults (and there are a lot of them), Facebook is still comfortably the most popular social network in the world.
Old media, or legacy media, are the mass media institutions that dominated prior to the Information Age; particularly print media, film studios, music studios, advertising agencies, radio broadcasting, and television.What is a mainstream audience in media? ›
People, activities, or ideas that are part of the mainstream are regarded as the most typical, normal, and conventional because they belong to the same group or system as most others of their kind. Collins COBUILD Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers.What is popular culture as mainstream media? ›
Popular cultureThe media, products, and attitudes considered to be part of the mainstream of a given culture and the everyday life of common people; it is often distinct from more formal conceptions of culture that take into account moral, social, religious beliefs and values; it ia also distinct from what some ...What are the three types of media companies? ›
Types of Media
About the FCC. The Federal Communications Commission regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.Which media source is regulated by the federal government? ›
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency of the United States federal government that regulates communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable across the United States.
What is mainstream example? ›
Mainstream describes what's viewed by most people in a society as "normal," like the mainstream view that everyone should get married, move to the suburbs, and have children as soon as they can. Something that's mainstream is conventional, or the usual way of doing things.Where does mainstream come from? ›
also main-stream, main stream, "principal current of a river," 1660s, from main (adj.) + stream (n.); hence, "prevailing direction in opinion, popular taste, etc.," a figurative use first attested in Carlyle (1831).
Traditional media is a form of outbound marketing, where businesses send their message out to consumers. New media is a form of inbound marketing, where businesses interact with individuals who sought them out. Inbound marketing tends to provide more willing consumers than outbound marketing.What is the difference between mainstream media and social media? ›
Unlike when you read a newspaper, or watch the television, social media allows us to instantly react and engage with other people who are interested in the same topic. There are fewer barriers within the world of social media, whereas sometimes mainstream media can be a little one-sided.How alternative became mainstream? ›
The popular and commercial success of Nirvana's 1991 album Nevermind took alternative rock into the mainstream, establishing its commercial and cultural viability. As a result, alternative rock became the most popular form of rock music of the decade and many alternative bands garnered commercial and critical success.What is the difference between mainstream and Internet journalism? ›
Traditional journalism disseminates information through printed materials, such as newspapers and other broadcasting medium, such as television and radio. Online journalism, on the other hand, has its articles published in the internet.What is the difference between mass media and multimedia? ›
In contrast to traditional mass media, such as printed material or audio recordings, which feature little to no interaction between users, a multimedia is a form of communication that uses a combination of different content forms such as audio, text, animations, images, or video into a single interactive presentation.What is the number 1 news network in America? ›
Fox News, once again, dominated the cable news rankings in 2022.What is the most popular news channel in the world? ›
- Fox News. Fox News (FNC) is an American multinational satellite and cable television channel. ...
- MSNBC News. ...
- BBC News. ...
- Sky news. ...
- CNN news. ...
- Al Arabiya. ...
- Al Jazeera. ...
- Euro news.
What is the most popular TV channel in USA? ›
In 2022, NBC was the leading ad-supported television network in the United States, with an average viewership of 5.15 million, surpassing the viewership number of CBS. The latter recorded 5.14 people watchig the TV channel.What is the biggest news outlet in USA? ›
NY Times remains the biggest news site in the US.What are the three major news outlets? ›
|Name||Means of distribution||Main media type(s)|
|CNN||Television, online||News, Politics|
|Fox News Channel||Television, online||News, Politics|
|NBC News||Television, online||News|
31-Sept. 7, 2020. More than eight-in-ten U.S. adults (86%) say they get news from a smartphone, computer or tablet “often” or “sometimes,” including 60% who say they do so often. This is higher than the portion who get news from television, though 68% get news from TV at least sometimes and 40% do so often.Is NewsNation right wing or left wing? ›
However, since its launch, NewsNation was accused of having a rightward tilt due to its guests and for hiring former Fox News Channel chief and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Bill Shine as a consultant. The news director and managing editor quit following disclosure of Shine's role.Who is behind the NewsNation network? ›
Formerly known as WGN America, the network is owned and operated by Nexstar Media Group Inc. The network draws on the local market, regional, and national expertise of Nexstar Media Group, Inc.'s 5,500 local journalists in 110 local newsrooms across the country.What is the most popular bias? ›
1. Confirmation Bias. One of the most common cognitive biases is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when a person looks for and interprets information (be it news stories, statistical data or the opinions of others) that backs up an assumption or theory they already have.What is partisan bias? ›
Partisan bias: Exists in the media when reporters serve and create the leaning of a particular political party.What are some popular biases? ›
- Gender bias. Gender bias, the favoring of one gender over another, is also often referred to as sexism. ...
- Ageism. ...
- Name bias. ...
- Beauty bias. ...
- Halo effect. ...
- Horns effect. ...
- Confirmation bias. ...
- Conformity bias.
What is the purpose of mainstream? ›
The primary purpose of mainstreaming is to include students with disabilities within the regular classroom while giving them the same opportunities as other students to: access instruction. gain knowledge.What does it mean to make something mainstream? ›
to make ideas, methods, or people become accepted by most people.What is mainstream thought? ›
: the thoughts, beliefs, and choices that are accepted by the largest number of people.What was the first mainstream social media? ›
The first social media site was born (1997)
On one of the first true social media sites, SixDegrees.com, you could set up a profile page, create lists of connections, and send messages within networks. The site amassed around one million users before being bought out for $125 million, only to shutter in 2000.
Social media started in the early 2000s
MySpace was the first social media site to reach a million monthly active users – it achieved this milestone around 2004. This is arguably the beginning of social media as we know it.
In the 2022 Forbes Global 2000 list, Comcast is America's largest media conglomerate, in terms of revenue, with The Walt Disney Company, Paramount Global, Warner Bros. Discovery, and Fox Corporation completing the top five.What are 5 examples of traditional media outlets? ›
- Newspapers and magazines. While subscription rates have significantly declined for print media over the last decade, these outlets still provide advertising benefits for companies. ...
- TV. ...
- Radio. ...
- Billboards. ...
- Email. ...
- Social media. ...
- Website. ...
- Video streaming.
- Comcast. Comcast is a sprawling media and telecommunications business. ...
- 2. Walt Disney. Walt Disney is home to some of the best-known characters and brands around the world. ...
- AT&T. ...
- Paramount Global. ...
- Sony. ...
There are three main types of news media: print media, broadcast media, and the Internet.What is the largest media market in the US? ›
- New York (#1)
- Los Angeles (#2)
- Chicago (#3)
- Philadelphia (#4)
- Dallas-Fort Worth (#5)
- Atlanta (#6)
- Houston (#7)
- Washington, D.C. (Hagerstown) (#8)
What are the five major companies that own the majority of the media in the world? ›
Discovery, Fox Corporation, Hearst Communications, Amazon (MGM Holdings Inc.), Grupo Globo (South America), and Lagardère Group. As of 2022, the largest media conglomerates in terms of revenue are Comcast, The Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros.What is the largest media group in USA? ›
What is the biggest media conglomerate? Comcast is the biggest media conglomerate. Comcast owns several important media companies, and combined with its overall revenue of $121.4 billion in 2022, the corporation is the largest media conglomerate in the country.What are the 4 media outlets? ›
Traditional media includes: television, radio, daily newspapers and community newspapers.What are the 4 traditional media? ›
Traditional media include radio, broadcast television, cable and satellite, print, and billboards. These are the forms of advertising that have been around for years, and many have had success with traditional media campaigns.What are the three largest media companies? ›
The top media companies are involved in advertising, broadcasting, news, print publication, digital media, and motion pictures. The largest media companies include Apple, Disney, and Comcast.Who owns the most media outlets? ›
Index of US Mainstream Media Ownership.
|Reach||Reported 90 million visits per month, SimilarWeb April 2021.|
|# estimated monthly||90,000,000|
The three types of media are commonly known as news media, social media, and web media, but you might also see them referred to as earned media, shared media, and owned media.What are the 3 three main functions of media? ›
Lasswell in 1948 listed three key media functions: a surveillance function, a consensus (or correlation) function, and a socialization (or transmission) function.What is an example of a media outlet? ›
Media outlets include newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and web sites.