Online news, good and bad, in new Pew report

People who get news online don’t spend a heck of a lot of time doing it, according to the fine researchers at the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. In their newest study of how U.S. residents use and interact with the news, they found that more people use online news three or more times each week (31 percent now, compared with 29 percent in 2004), but growth of the audience for online news has slowed, and it tends toward older users (40 and up).

Make sure you compare the numbers for online news with the numbers for print and broadcast. It still seems clear that the percentage of people using those media for news is declining — and that the decline will continue.

The chart labeled “More Turn to TV for News and Use It Longer” might make some broadcast folks do a little happy dance, but there are a few things to consider before you break out the champagne. First, stack up the percentages of where people go for news: 31 percent online, 28 percent nightly network news, 40 percent newspaper. These numbers are not exclusive, of course — Pew found that many of those newspaper readers are also getting news online.

The best number of all was for local TV news — 54 percent said they watched it three or more times a week.

What does that tell you?

Steve Yelvington made a strong point about local news a couple of days ago:

Churn rates at many major metro papers exceed half the subscriber base. In other words, for every 100,000 subscribers, more than 50,000 cancel every year and have to be replaced (at great marketing expense). Many major dailies now reach only two out of ten households in their own circulation areas. They’re not treading water; they’re sinking fast.

It’s the smaller markets that are solid — the ones where newspapers are full of the local news that allegedly dumbs down the paper so that it appeals to the hicks in flyover country.

People want local news. They desperately desire to know what’s going on in their own backyard. They don’t find that in the network TV news, and they don’t find it in a lot of cookie-cutter, chain-owned newspapers nowadays.

They also don’t find a lot of that online. Is this going to change? It might. When Pew makes its next report two years from now, we’ll see whether any of this hyperlocal stuff has made a difference.

Oh, and about the short time people spend with news online … People spend a short time with anything online! Just look at the Nielsen//NetRatings: On average, a person spends less than 60 seconds on any Web page. (This is actually increasing a little — it used to be about 48 seconds.) It’s not as if news will be different from all the other information they look at online.

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2 Comments on “Online news, good and bad, in new Pew report

  1. Online news growth seems to be coming at the expense of radio, a breaking-news competitor. Otherwise, not much has changed: News consumption is increasingly a features-centered leisure pursuit, and still an acquired taste for the young, who favor Web sites as a quick read.

  2. You know, I don’t think there really is much “breaking news” nowadays. Hurricane hits New Orleans, yes. President shot in Dallas, yes. Plane crashes into World Trade Center, yes. Tsunami kills tens of thousands in Asia, yes. These are all breaking news. But “cars crash on highway” and “more people killed in war”? This is hardly breaking news.

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