News ‘Grazers’ Increasingly Drifting to Online, Mobile Pastures

Online news sites are now the third most-popular source of news for American consumers, behind only local and national television news, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Roughly six in 10 American adults get news online on a typical day, while 71 percent of Americans get news online at least occasionally, the report found. National print newspapers, local print newspapers and radio all fall behind online news in typical consumption habits.

The overwhelming majority of Americans, however — a full 92 percent — use multiple platforms to get their daily news. Just 7 percent of American adults get their daily news from a single media platform, in fact, and those who do typically rely on either the Internet or local television news.

‘News Grazers’

Portal Web sites like Google News, AOL and Topix are the most commonly used online news sources, visited by more than half of online news users on a typical day, the report found.

Also faring well are the sites of traditional news organizations with an offline presence, such as CNN, BBC, and local or national newspapers.

“Americans have become news grazers both on and offline — but within limits,” said Amy Mitchell, deputy director for Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “They generally don’t have one favorite Web site but also don’t search aimlessly. Most online news consumers regularly draw on just a handful of different sites.”

Portable, Personalized, Participatory

With the growing usage of mobile technologies, meanwhile, people’s relationship to news is also becoming more portable, personalized and participatory, the report found.

Specifically, 33 percent of cellphone owners now access news on their cellphones, while 28 percent have customized their home page to include news from sources and on topics that particularly interest them.

Thirty-seven percent of users now participate in the news, on the other hand, whether by contributing to the creation of news, commenting about it, or disseminating it via postings on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

A Social Experience

Indeed, news is increasingly a social experience for consumers, the survey found, with people using their social networks and social networking technology to filter, assess and react to news. They also use traditional email and other tools to swap stories and comment on them.

Among those who get news online, in fact, 75 percent get news forwarded through email or posts on social networking sites, and 52 percent share links to news with others via those means.

“News awareness is becoming an anytime, anywhere, any device activity for those who want to stay informed,” noted Kristen Purcell, associate director for research at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

“We see new segments of avid news consumers built around those who have set up news alerts and those who are eager to be part of the news-creation and news-commentary environment,” Purcell added.

The report is based on a national telephone survey of 2,259 adults ages 18 and older.

‘On-Demand Access’

Americans’ increasing reliance on online sources in their mix of new outlets “is not a surprise,” Sreenath Sreenivasan, dean of student affairs and digital media professor at The Journalism School at Columbia University. “We’ve been going in this direction for years.”

Such changes reflect the current culture, with its focus on “instant access, anytime access and on-demand access to news and information,” Sreenivasan told TechNewsWorld. “I think it’s going to increasingly become that way.”

Of course, even before the Internet, most consumers relied on a mix of media for their news, he added.

Peer Referrals

“The Internet is all about choice,” noted Paul Gillin, blogger, podcaster and author of The New Influencers.

“I think the big change there is that people are getting more news referred to them by their peers,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Facebook and Twitter have become very significant sources of news referrals.”

While following news of the tsunami near Hawaii recently, for example, Gillin found that “Twitter points me to the best stuff, where news sites point me to their stuff.”

‘More of a Curation Process’

Looking forward, news organizations “need to be doing a better job of connecting with their readers and viewers and making sure that they’re the place people go to get news and information, since they have so many choices,” Sreenivasan asserted. “They need to be watching the trends and seeing if they’re using technology and digital storytelling the best way they can to bring in real dialogue and conversation with their readers.”

News sites are in a tough position, Gillin agreed.

As the social networking sites are increasingly demonstrating, “news is becoming more of a curation process than a content production one,” he said, with a growing emphasis on directing people to where the best content is, even if the site doesn’t own it.

‘A Big Opportunity for Professionals’

“That’s the hard part,” Gillin added, “because the culture of these organizations is very inwardly focused.”

A big growth area moving forward, then, is curation, he said, or the process of filtering all the reports out there and pointing readers to the best ones.

“Right now, people manage that through a haphazard process of tuning into friends’ networks to see where people point them,” he concluded. “There’s a big opportunity for professionals to do that.”

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