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Which one is more common among native English speakers?

Example sentence:

We turned on the TV and flipped through the news (channels).

I found both versions on Google Books, with flipping through the news channels appearing more often. But still, maybe flipping through the news is common also?

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    To flip through the news implies a newspaper, whose pages you are idly turning, looking for articles of interest. I suppose you could say "flip through the news channels" as a play on the more common and idiomatic "flip through the channels" (with the same sense of waiting for something interesting to catch your eye). The problem I have with that is a) I've never used it or heard or read anyone use it and b) I think that flipping through implies a large variety of choices, such as pages in a newspaper or channels in a cable subscription. How many dedicated news channels have you? – Dan Bron Apr 28 '15 at 12:09
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    One would never say 'flipping through the news channel' (singular) because there's nothing to flip through if there's only one. Of course you can flip through a (single) magazine' because there are many pages to flip through. 'Flipping through the news' would only work if there's context that 'the news' is some inherently plural thing (and it usually isn't, it's usually a mass noun), like you're looking at a microfiche of news. – Mitch Apr 28 '15 at 12:14
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    'flipping' means 'changing from one to the next real quickly'. So, semantically, you need a number of items in order to flip through them. – Mitch Apr 28 '15 at 12:18
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    @janoChen Never knew you were from Taiwan! Neat! Anyway, without digging into the details of each, I think that WP list may be misleading: many of the listed channels seem miscategorized. Is MTV news? Or Animal Planet? What I was trying to get at with my previous comment was that typically, there are only a few channels dedicated to news (news news), so it's unusual to describe people as flipping through [that small handful of] channels. Particularly since the channels are not typically adjacent, so you can't just hit +/-, and they're mostly fungible, so people usually pick (just) one. – Dan Bron Apr 28 '15 at 12:20
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    @janoChen If you use surfing, make sure you set a TV context clearly, otherwise people will get he impression your characters are reading the Internet (e.g. On their laptops). Though having done that, surfing is more apt, because it doesn't require the rapid, +/- channel changing that flipping implies. It's more laid back. Languorous. – Dan Bron Apr 28 '15 at 12:21
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"Flipping through the news" is ambiguous, leaving it unclear whether one means newspapers, news channels, internet news sources, or news sources in general.

"Flipping through the news channels" is reasonably unambiguous, and would usually be taken to mean cycling though TV/cable/satellite news channels (though there probably is a modest chance that someone would interpret it differently).

"Flipping through the news stations" would be even less ambiguous, but is not as idiomatic.

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I decided to run a Google Books search for "flipping through the news" to see how many of the matches would be part of the longer phrase "flipping through the news channels." To my surprise, Google Books found only four matches for the shorter phrase—and in all four instances the author was actually using the longer phrase. Here are those four occurrences. From The Believer, issues 5–8 (2003), page 102 [combined snippets]:

BLVR: Satirists tend to thrive during periods of national instability. If we're perfectly content with our politicians and the world is one big happy place, there's really no point in mocking any of it. What's bad for the nation is good for the comedy writer. Do you ever find yourself flipping through the news channels and hoping for something horrible to happen? Not on a 9/ 1 1 scale, of course, but at least something absurd or infuriating enough to get your satire mojo working.

TF: No. Never.

From Jane Berentson, Long Division: A Novel (2010):

Cracking an egg in a skillet.

Eating clams with Gus.

Letting the phone ring and ring.

Laughing with Loretta.

Flipping through the news channels on my television.

From Joyshri Lobo, Bartered Lives: Love and Betrayal in North India (2014):

A mountain range and many borders away, Commando sat flipping through the news channels. Another attempt had been made to assassinate the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. He escaped but many of his security guards were killed or wounded.

And from Suhas Inamdar, Life Version 2 (2016):

Abhijeet asked him, "Yes Narayan, tell us, on which news channel did you see this person? What was the news about?"

Narayan said, “Sir, yesterday evening, as I was randomly flipping through the news channels, I happened to see a news about this person being arrested on charges of committing fraud. I could not see the full news, but I could make out that he was arrested for some fraud case."

The alternative expression for news in print appears to have been not "flipping through the news," but "flipping through the newspaper" or "flipping through the pages of [a newspaper]." A Google Books search finds matches for the former expression from 1972, 1976, 1977, and later.

From a chronological perspective, "flipping through the news channels" may have been easier for English speakers to adopt because they were already familiar with the expression "flipping through the newspaper"—even though news channel flipping is figurative whereas newspaper page flipping is literal—but I don't find evidence in Google books that the exact expression "flipping through the news" antedated "flipping through the news channels" or that it was ever a common short form of "flipping through the newspaper."


Update (December 9, 2016): 'flipping through the news' vs. 'flipping through the channels'

Following up on a comment by Hot Licks from October 9 of this year (beneath the poster's question above) that "I suspect that 'flipping through the channels' is far more common," I ran a Google Books search for "flipping through the news" (blue line) versus "flipping through the channels" (red line) for the period 1950–2005, which yielded this chart:

This result confirms Hot Licks's suspicion and is consistent with my finding (discussed above) that all four matches for "flipping through the news" in Google Books search results involved the longer phrase "flipping through the news channels."

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In the example you gave, "We turned on the TV and flipped through the news" is fine. This is because you provided the information that they were watching TV.

However, as @Hot Licks says, if you just wrote "We flipped through the news", it is unclear what medium (newspaper, iPad, smartphone, TV) you are using.

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