Press & Other Media in the US

This guide was written by Francine Carrel, Assistant Editor of Guides.Global (office@guides.global).

It was written on 23 November 2016. The law and practice in the US change all the time. Our guides are updated as frequently as possible - typically every three years - but may be out of date.

Our guides are prepared by professionals from many countries. They are, of necessity, both brief and general and can take no account of your personal circumstances. They are intended to be a good introduction to the subject BUT ARE NO SUBSTITUTE FOR PROPER PROFESSIONAL ADVICE, which our contributors will usually be happy to provide upon request.

The advice and opinions contained in the guides are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Guides.Global.

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The scope of this guide

This guide collates facts and figures about news, television and radio in the United States.


The United States is a huge and varied country. It has an incredible number of ways to consumer news and entertainment. These will often differ from state to state, although there's a good amount of national media.

Freedom of press in the US

The US has, on the whole, a good level of press freedom.

Freedom house ranks the US as 29 out of 202 countries it lists.

freedom of press in the US
Source: Freedom House

Reporters Without Borders has the US ranked as 41 of 180 countries listed (2016).

Freedom of press is enshrined in the US constitution (the First Amendment) - and is almost always respected. The media enjoys has some of the strongest legal protections in the world, with most states having specific laws to protect journalists from having to reveal their sources.

However, as with all countries, the United States' press does have its problems. Some organisations claim that press freedom has been compromised by the 'war against whistleblowers' that the United States is currently waging. The Obama administration brought a record number of actions against 'leakers'.

The US media is often criticised for being partisan and extreme (towards one political leaning or another), with political figures often railing against a 'bias media'.

Further risks to an effective press come from economic concerns: as the popularity of free web-based information soars, fewer and fewer people are willing to pay for their news and entertainment.

Newspapers in the US

The sheer size of the US limits the effectiveness, and popularity, of national newspapers - six of the top ten papers by circulation are city-specific.

The top newspapers in the United States by circulation are:

 Rank Newspaper City of distribution Average circulation (2013)
1 The Wall Street Journal Nationwide 2,378,827
2 The New York Times Nationwide 1,865,318
3 USA Today Nationwide 1,674,306
4 Los Angeles Times Los Angeles 653,868
5 Daily News New York City 516,165
6 New York Post New York City 500,521
7 The Washington Post Nationwide 474,767
8 Chicago Sun-Times Chicago 470,548
9 The Denver Post Denver 416,676
10 Chicago Tribune Chicago 414,930

Print-only is still the most common way for consumers to read their newspaper.

Print vs other media for newspapers
Source: Pew Research Center

But that data is only for newspaper subscribers: as a whole, newspapers as a primary source of news are declining. Ten years ago, newspapers outranked the internet as a primary news source. This is no longer the case.

Pew Research estimates that newspapers lost 7% of daily circulation and 8% of ad revenue in 2015. The number of employees at US newspapers now totals 32,000 - down from 55,000 in 2006. Over 100 daily newspapers have closed since 2004.

None of this paints a promising picture for the future of print news in the US.

Online news in the US

More people are getting their news from websites than ever before.

The top news websites in November 2016 were:

 Rank Website Estimated unique monthly visitors
1 Yahoo! News 175,000,000
2 Google News 150,000,000
3 HuffingtonPost 110,000,000
4 CNN 95,000,000
5 New York Times 70,000,000
6 Fox News 65,000,000
7 NBC News 63,000,000
8 Mail Online 53,000,000
9 Washington Post 47,000,000
10 The Guardian 42,000,000
Source: eBiz

A great many Americans now get news from social networking sites - a new but now incredibly prevalent medium.

About 6-in-10 Americans get news from social media

However, it's important (or, at least, interesting) to note that news sites rarely attract as rapt an audience as print media.

Many people will be attracted by an individual article: found via a Google search or click on through social media. Few will then go on to read more articles on the same website. People reading longer articles are somewhat more likely to continue with the same website, but the majority still leave the site after reading one piece.

Long-form readers somewhat more likely to visit multiple articles on a site

Television in the US

There are a lot of television channels available in the US - thousands of them. To access most of them, one must pay a monthly 'cable' subscription. Generally, the more you pay, the more you get.

Data from Nielsen suggests that most Americans receive far more channels than they actually watch.

channels received vs channels viewed
Source: Nielsen

The US churns out an astonishing amount of television content. Game shows, reality TV, drama, documentaries and 24-hour news channels are easily accessible. You will not enjoy a lot of it, but you will almost certainly find some programmes to your taste. You will almost certainly be familiar with a lot of it, given the huge international audiences some US programmes attract!

You can see the 100 most-watched TV shows for 2015-16 here. The top five were:

  1. NFL Sunday Night Football (Sport, NBC)

  2. The Big Bang Theory (Comedy, CBS)

  3. NCIS (Crime drama, CBS)

  4. The Walking Dead (Horror drama, AMC)

  5. NFL Thursday Night Football (Sport, CBS/NFL Network)

US 'ratings' are determined by a pretty small (5,000 households) but representative viewer sample. You can learn more about that here.

The most-watched television stations in the US, according to TV Insider, are:

 Rank Station Viewers in 2015
1 CBS 9,419,000
2 NBC 7,757,000
3 ABC 6,894,000
4 Fox 5,198,000
5 Univision 2,551,000
6 ESPN 2,022,000
7 TBS 1,876,000
8 USA 1,850,000
9 Disney Channel 1,784,000
10 Fox News Channel 1,775,000

Television adverts in the US

The length and frequency of TV advertisements in the US is a common cause for complaint from expats in the country.

The average hour of cable television in the US includes 15.63 minutes of advertising. For comparison, commercial UK channels average 9 minutes per hour.

Cordcutting.com estimates that US residents who exclusively use streaming services (see below) save 160 hours of ad time.

Another slightly jarring thing about American television is the presence (and prevalence) of advertisements for prescription drugs/medications. This is only legal in one other country in the world: New Zealand.

Streaming services in the US

Television in the US is trending away from 'traditional' watching and towards streaming services. Traditional television is still the dominant of the two options but the gap - especially amongst the 18-34 'millenials' - is closing.

television vs internet streaming chart

Netflix has 47million subscribers in the United States. Amazon Prime Video has nearly 22million.

Radio in the US

Radio reaches more people in the US than any other form of media, with 93% of Americans over 12 tuning in on at least a weekly basis.

Of course, within the umbrella of 'radio' are a great many categories: music, talk shows, entertainment, religious programming and news.

Country music is the most popular type of radio station! This is followed by stations that offer a mixture of talk and news.

Radio is another medium that is finding more online consumers. In 2007, 20% of Americans over 12 years old reported listening to online radio in the past month. In 2016, this had increased to 57%.

Public radio in the US

'Public' radio in the United States comes from National Public Radio (NPR). It's funded by programming fees, grants, sponsorships and contributions from business and private entities.

NPR provides content to 900 stations across the US, most of which broadcast a mix of NPR and other material. NPR produces news and cultural programming.

I put 'public' in inverted commas as only around 10% of NPR's funding comes from federal sources. Whilst the programming does not feature traditional advertisements, it does feature plenty of sponsorship messages and interruptions in the form of pledge drives.

Expats' Tips

If you'd like to share your experiences with US media, please email office@guides.global


There is a lot to choose from when it comes to American media. Much of it may seem odd to expats, but a little experimentation will usually find you the type of news or entertainment you desire!

Other guides of interest

 Description Link 
Country Guide to the United States
Useful facts and figures
country guide for the US
The Internet in the US
This guide looks at the availability of internet in the United States, its price, service providers, mobile internet and how the US stands in comparison to the rest of the world.
internet in the US

You may also want to read:

 Description Link 
State of the News Media 2016
A report from Pew Research Center
guide to news media in the us
Cost of cable TV vs. Internet streaming
A cost breakdown from Bankrate
Cost of cable TV vs. Internet streaming
Freedom of Press in the US
United States detailed profile from Freedom House
Freedom of Press in the US
Most popular TV shows by state
According to IMDB, compiled by Business Insider
Most popular TV shows by state

Readers' Comments


Further information?

I hope you have found this guide useful. If you need any further help, please contact me.

Francine Carrel

23 November 2016


This guide was co-authored by John Howell (Email: John.Howell@Guides.Global or John@jhco.org. Web: www.jhco.org or www.Guides.Global)


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