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Pew Study: Online News Audience Growth Slows

The just released research from the Pew Center for the People is filled with interesting empirical evidence about Internet audience and the news, including:

…the growth of the online news audience has slowed considerably since 2000, particularly among the very young, who are now somewhat less likely to go online for news than are people in their 40s. For the most part, online news has evolved as a supplemental source that is used along with traditional news media outlets. It is valued most for headlines and convenience, not detailed, in-depth reporting.

However, even with the Internet, overall news consumption is falling:

Roughly eight-in-ten (81%) say they got news yesterday either from TV, newspapers, radio, or by going online. That represents a slight decline from 2004 (85%), but a more substantial drop since 1994 (90%).

The bad news for newspapers is:

…the highest estimate of daily newspaper readership ­ 43% for both print and online readers ­ is still well below the number reading a print newspaper on a typical day 10 years ago (50%)…while newspapers continue to draw anemic numbers of young readers ­ just 29% of those under age 30 ­ that figure has remained stable since 1996, as some young people have turned to online papers. However, newspaper readership among older age groups has fallen significantly over that period. Even when online newspapers are included, 58% of those ages 65 and older say they read a newspaper yesterday, down from 70% a decade ago.

Here is, I suppose, some good news:

Since 2002 there has been no significant change in the percent reading a newspaper yesterday….Local and community news continues to be the biggest draw for newspapers. And as was the case during the mid-1980s, roughly nine-in-ten of those who at least sometimes read a newspaper say they spend a significant amount of time getting the news about their city, town or region.


In 1996, people on average spent slightly more than an hour (66 minutes) getting the news from TV, radio or newspapers. Currently, they spend virtually the same amount of time (67 minutes) getting the news from all major news sources, the internet included.

Here on lack of online news viewing depth, the report says:

while nearly half of all Americans (48%) spend at least 30 minutes getting news on television, just 9% spend that long getting news online.

But apparently that reading spreads across all demographic groups:

…younger Americans do not make up the core audience for online newspapers ­ just 9% read the paper online on a typical day. By comparison, Americans ages 30-49 are the most likely to read a newspaper online on a typical day ­ 12% report having done so “yesterday.” In fact, people ages 50 to 64 are just as likely as the youngest cohort to read online newspapers.

And here is a nice surprise:

…reading books also is a favored activity of many young people. Indeed, somewhat more people ages 18-29 say they read a book yesterday than do people ages 30-49 (41% vs. 34%), and about the same percentages of people under age 30 and those ages 50 and older read a book yesterday. However, far fewer young people actually enjoy reading. Just 39% of those age 18-29 say they enjoy reading a lot, compared with majorities in older age categories.

Question: Is the next paragraph good news for newspapers or does it mean papers are yawners?

A majority of newspaper readers (57%) also say they find the experience “relaxing.” Fewer regular radio news consumers (44%), TV news consumers (41%) ­ and especially internet news users (33%) ­ say they find it relaxing to get the news from those sources.

There is good online audience news for the national papers, but not so for the local papers:

While the web has not grown the overall newspaper audience, it has significantly broadened the public’s access to some of the major national newspapers that they might otherwise not read on a regular basis. Among people who read only the print version of the newspaper, very few are reading the New York Times (2%), Washington Post (2%) or USA Today (3%). But people who read newspapers online are far more likely to read these papers. Fully 18% of Americans who read a paper online yesterday read the New York Times, 9% read the Washington Post online, and 7% read the USA Today online.

By comparison, local papers have had less success reaching online readers. Fewer than half (46%) of the readers who went to newspaper websites yesterday visited the website of a local newspaper, compared with 92% of those who read only the print newspaper.

Apparently the public doesn’t want biased news, but wait until you get to the partisan views below:

a large majority of the public continues to say that they prefer getting news from sources that don’t have a particular point of view ­ 68% in the current poll, unchanged from two years ago. Only about a quarter (23%) say they prefer getting news that shares their point of view.

Of course, sometimes, one has to question the validity of these polls. First I had trouble with this:

Judged by their answers to three news knowledge questions2, the most informed audiences belong to the political magazines, Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, the O’Reilly Factor, news magazines, and online news sources. Close behind are the regular audiences for NPR and the Daily Show.

Then I read the three questions, might there be a bias here? What do you think? :

…which party has a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives (Republicans); the name of the current U.S. Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice); the name of the current president of Russia (Vladimir Putin).

Of course, as with everything else in our society, partisan views, read Republican vs. Democrat, skew which news programming each finds credible, although overall the numbers are slipping:

Despite the substantial partisan differences in credibility ratings, the gap has narrowed since 2004 for many major outlets. This has occurred largely because Democrats see many news sources as less credible now than they did two years ago, including CNN, the major television networks, and the New York Times. At the same time, the credibility of nearly all of the sources remained statistically unchanged for Republicans.

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