News Audiences Now Blend Online And Traditional Sources

August 20, 2008

The title of this blog entry is approximately the title of the ever-reliable Pew Research Center for the People and the Press’ latest report, “Key News Audiences Now Blend Online And Traditional Sources,” subtitled “Pew Research Center Biennial News Consumption Survey.” As I’m fond of saying, the report is both exhaustive and exhausting, weighing in at some 129 pages. Perhaps this is more than most of us would like to know (although in fact the analysis and commentary comprises about half of the total, the rest being devoted to detailed statistical analyses).

The report adds bulk by segmenting the audience, for example into:

1. Integrators, who get the news from both traditional sources and the internet

2. Net-Newsers, who principally turn to the web for news, and largely eschew traditional sources

3. Traditionalists, who say that seeing pictures and video, rather than reading or hearing the facts, gives them the best understanding of events…and the

4. Disengaged, who stand out for their low levels of interest in the news and news consumption

There are numerous informative charts in the report; one of the most startling is below.

Decline_in_Print_Readership_Outpaces.jpg

I’ve been clapping my hands for newspapers, hoping this will keep them alive, but this data does depress. It’s certainly bad news for the printed versions of newspapers (which should not surprise unless you’ve been vacationing in Tonga for the last year, waiting for the new monarch to emerge), but also doesn’t bode well for the online future of newspapers either.

When you look at the slightly broader picture painted by the chart below, it’s difficult to put on a happy face, although you see a more complex picture, as suggested by the title of the report. “Traditional Sources” in the Pew study refers largely to television. While the nightly network news has taken a big hit since 1993, followed by local TV news, both cable news and morning news are holding their own, or gaining slightly.

Newspaper_Readership_Declines.jpg

The more delicate and yet most intriguing fact in the report is stated bluntly: “In spite of the increasing variety of ways to get the news, the proportion of young people getting no news (emphasis mine) on a typical day has increased substantially over the past decade. About a third of those younger than 25 (34%) say they get no news on a typical day, up from 25% in 1998.”

I’m still in the camp that believes that getting some of the news, some of the time, is an essential part of living in a democratic society. To imagine that a third of those half my age do not share this opinion is troubling to me. Change is coming, we just don’t know what it is.

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