I'm not a fan of the uses and gratifications approach to understanding media, but I have to admit it's becoming more and more -- yes, useful -- in getting at our fragmenting media landscape. Just look at the graph provided by the fine folks at Pew:
People move from source to source based, it seems, on the gratifications they're likely to get from that source. Wanna be entertained? The Colbert Report is there for you (53 percent), but apparently not so much The Wall Street Journal (2 percent). Sticking with Stephen, look across the row. Yes, he's entertaining, but few people looking for the latest headlines or in-depth reporting end up there. And that makes sense.
So uses and grats basically tells us we seek out different media to fulfill a need. The Pew table above, it validates that body of research in a simple way. When you want the latest news, you go to the TV networks or your daily newspaper. Want in-depth stuff? That's the realm of the two national newspapers (WSJ and NYT). When asked about views and opinions, up pops the specific programs often found on the cable news channels (O'Reilly on Fox, for example, or Maddow on MSNBC).
For many of you, this qualifies as a "duh" moment. But for others, it may be new. An important aspect of understanding why people choose the media they choose is what they hope to get out of it: entertainment, relaxation, insight, etc. I read The Atlantic because it makes me look smarter.