New insight into how Americans get news shows most of us are not loyal to one news organization and consume information from a myriad of platforms, be it TV, the Internet, local newspapers, radio, or national newspapers. According to the authors of the study, Pew Research Center's Pew Internet & American Life Project, the Internet is now the third most popular news platform, behind local television news and national television news.
The Pew report, titled Understanding the Participatory News Consumer was a collaboration between the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and has some very interesting implications for the news business; here are some of the highlights:
News Is Social
Pew says that 37 percent of Internet users are commenting, Tweeting, Facebooking and otherwise integrating news sharing into their daily lives. "People use their social networks and social networking technology to filter, assess, and react to news," the Pew report says. A full 75 percent of online news consumers get news stories delivered via e-mail or social networking, and 52 percent of those people will share news stories with others online. Even more intriguing is that "72% of American news consumers say they follow the news because they enjoy talking with others about what is happening in the world."
These are interesting findings considering recent news about the future of journalism. In recent months, we've heard rumors that News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch may end up balkanizing the Internet through a search deal with Bing, The New York Times has plans for a metered paywall and others hope tablets and e-readers will revive a dying industry.
But if the news is going social and people want to share this content with others, doesn't it make more sense to give people a reason to visit news sites, instead of building barriers to accessible content?
Adding to the paywall conundrum is the Pew Center's finding that news consumers are rarely loyal to a particular news brand. A healthy majority of online news users, 65 percent say they do not have a favorite news site, and visit between two and five news sites a day.
That doesn't bode well for news organizations that are depending on brand loyalty to see them through this rough transition period. So what can news sites do to attract readers? Here's an interesting quote: "Moreover, 36 percent of Internet users say an important part of a news website to them is the ability to manipulate content themselves such as graphics, maps, and quizzes."
News is Local, But Not so Much Online
The Pew's study contradicts all that talk about the importance of hyper local Websites and news. People are interested in local news, but the favored platform for local information is television, with 78 percent of Americans preferring to get news from a local TV station. The report says the five most popular news subjects online are weather, national events, health or medicine, business finance or the economy and international events.
Online is Still Just an Additive
Here's the strange part about online news: the Internet is the second most popular news platform (third if you count local and national/cable television as two different media streams), but only 2 percent of American adults are getting their news solely online. Most regular news consumers, 59 percent, get their news from more than one platform on a typical day, and 38 percent rely just on offline sources.
News is Going Mobile and Biased
The majority of Americans (80 percent) have cell phones, the Pew report says, and 37 percent of them are going online from their mobile devices. The study also found that 33 percent of all cell phone users get some form of news through their mobile handsets.
News consumers aren't fooled by the supposed objectivity of news sources either. Seventy-two percent of survey respondents agreed "most news sources today are biased in their coverage." The Pew Center says this view changes depending on whether you're liberal or conservative, but did not say whether your preference for a Mac or Windows machine had any bearing.