Good News: People Are Consuming More News

Circulation declines and falling revenue for newspapers and magazines have fueled concern that Americans are replacing traditional offline news sources with online sources. However, a new study by the Pew Center for People and the Press that looked at time spent with different sources of news found that growth in online news consumption hasn’t come at the expense of traditional media such as newspapers and television, but rather has added to it. In fact, people are spending more time with the news than they have at almost any point over the last 15 years, according to the Center’s research.

While it’s true there’s been a gradual decline in the number of people who say they get their daily news from newspapers, magazines and television (with newspapers suffering the biggest decline in consumption), the Pew study found that some of this decline was being compensated for by the increase in numbers of people who were finding their news online, and many people were also adding online consumption to their existing news habits. This has caused the amount of time spent on news to actually increase over the past few years, the center’s research shows, to the point where overall time spent is as high as it was 15 years ago. The report said:

As was the case in 2000, people now say they spend 57 minutes on average getting the news from TV, radio or newspapers on a given day. But today, they also spend an additional 13 minutes getting news online, increasing the total time spent with the news to 70 minutes. This is one of the highest totals on this measure since the mid-1990s.

According to the survey, about a third of those who responded (34 percent) said they went online to get news the day before they were asked the question — roughly the same proportion as said they listened to the radio, and slightly higher than the percentage who said they used a newspaper. When cell phones, email, social networks and podcasts were added to the total, almost 45 percent of Americans said they got their news through one or more Internet or mobile sources. More than a third of those surveyed said that they got news from both digital and traditional sources, which the Pew Center said suggests that “instead of replacing traditional news platforms, Americans are increasingly integrating new technologies into their news consumption habits.”

Pew’s Internet and American Life project did a similar news-consumption study earlier this year and found that news has become an increasingly social experience for many Americans, with most consuming news from multiple sources and on multiple platforms, and a growing number sharing that news with others through social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. That study also showed that online sources had overtaken newspapers for the third spot on the list of most important sources of news, just behind local and national television.

As with any such survey, the Pew Center’s most recent research relies on what people say about their news-consumption habits rather than measuring what they actually do, so it’s possible that people are overstating the extent to which they are blending existing news media usage with online news. The study is still an optimistic note in the debate over whether Americans are turning their backs on mainstream media in favor of online sources.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): What We Can Learn From the Guardian’s Open Platform

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr user ShironekoEuro