Have you heard the news? We Americans are increasingly getting our news online, as evidenced by the very fact that you’re reading this now. But you don’t have to rely on your own personal experience for proof.
Americans and News: The Pew Study
The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, along with the Project for Excellence in Journalism, conducted a study to see how Americans’ news habits had evolved in recent years. Their findings: Nearly all of us rely on multiple platforms for our daily diet of info, with TV news leading the way and the Internet following close behind. Among cell phone owners, a third of people access mobile news sites or apps while on-the-go.
Sources aside, social engagement is becoming increasingly important: Nearly 40 percent of us love to get involved with the news, Pew reports — blogging, commenting, or sharing on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Not only that, but we rely on those social networks to feed us the info we crave: Three-quarters of people say they regularly receive news stories through Facebook-style sites and e-mail.
Taking things a step further from Pew’s findings, we can actually see what kind of content people are sharing on social networks compared to more traditional news sites. And it turns out there’s a definite difference.
Online News Sources and Social Networks
Analysis firm Hitwise delved deeper into our online news consumption habits. Hitwise found that Facebook users, in an interesting twist, seem to prefer linking to stories from TV news outlets over print or strictly online publications.
According to Hitwise’s research, Facebook users share more news stories from The Weather Channel than any other Web site. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News are among the other sites most commonly sourced.
In contrast, news content featured on Google News tends to lean toward traditional print publications, with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post taking the top three spots for downstream traffic.
News Source Separation
So what’s driving the difference? One thing to consider is that Google News is powered by algorithms — which, some contend, can be more about keywords than actual news content. Convincing computers to pick up your story and compelling people to socially share your story are two very different accomplishments.
As to why broadcast news outlets seem more skilled at achieving the latter, The New York Times suggests the Internet may be the “water-cooler” of our digital age. The Web allows us to “split [our] time between the computer screen and the big-screen,” The Times hypothesizes, sharing things we’re seeing on the tube in real-time with friends and family. Perhaps TV and social media are just two peas in a virtual pod.
Whatever the reason, one thing’s for sure: I’ll take broadcast news links over Farmville updates any day.