September 26, 2011: By Nidhi Subbaraman contributed to Fast Company
Last week, Mark Zuckerberg shook things up at the social media/news interface when he announced Facebook’s upcoming partnerships with a number of major news organizations. The Washington Post‘s Social Reader . . .
already looks like a slick piece of work, and apps such as that from other news organizations could dramatically change the way 750 million people (give or take) encounter and read news on the web.
And just how are those habits changing?
The latest study to zoom in on Americans and their news habits comes from data munchers at Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Internet American Life Project, who got together with folks at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to look at how and where Americans found news.
They called and polled 2,251 people above the age of 18 over two weeks in January, and asked questions about what kinds of news they encountered, and where they looked to find it.
The study turned up a mixed bag: As the number of options for news outlets have grown, Americans are changing up the way they find news, with news junkies dipping into different kinds of media for different kinds of information. Sixty-four percent of people polled told Pew they got their weekly news from three different types of media, with 15% reporting that they looked at up to six different media types.
In terms of raw viewer numbers, television emerged as the most popular news medium, beating out both the web, and print: 74% of Americans watched news on television. But, news derived from there fell chiefly into two categories: 89% follow the weather on television, and 80% follow breaking news.
The study also revealed a closer look at the place of the newspaper (and its web edition) in people’s news appetites. Half the people polled said they still read the newspaper or its corresponding website for news on topics like crime, community events, local government, and arts and culture.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, when the data were sorted by age groups, the numbers varied between people above and below the age of 40. The younger crowd relies on local specialty sites on the web to find information about local events, restaurants, and events, while the older crowd still looks to newspapers. That’s a trend that newspapers need to be wary about, the authors of the study write. “This move by younger users to rely on the internet for local information puts considerable pressure on traditional news organizations,” the study’s authors write. “Even though most have moved aggressively online with ambitious websites and social media strategies, there is evidence in the data that people find specialty websites and search engines a preferable way to find the local material they want.”
According to the study, the future of mobile applications as news sources had potential, but had yet to gain traction. Mobile applications were pretty popular, with 47% of respondents saying they received some kind of news from their mobile devices, but zoomed in by topic, mobile doesn’t carry much weight yet. Five percent of users got weather info from their smartphones or tablets, but for the other 15 topics 1% or less of the study participants said they found that news from their mobile app.
Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and science.