Internet keeps growing as news source for Americans

Print newspapers are so yesterday; news sites -- and TV -- clobber print, Pew survey finds

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The number of people who rely on leafing through newspapers to learn what's going on in the world continues to decline, according to the results of a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, a non-profit polling and social science research organization.

A study by the Washington D.C.-based "think tank" found that the Internet is now the third most popular vehicle for getting daily news updates, behind local and national television outlets. Local and national newspapers, and radio, lagged behind.

The Pew survey found that local and national television news were the top sources of news for Americans -- 78% of those polled said they turn to local television and 73% to a national network or cable show for at least some news. Web sites are now the third most popular source for news as 61% of respondents said they read them regularly.

The survey results are bad news for the newspaper industry as just 50% of respondents reported reading news in a local newspaper, while only 17% reportedly read news in a national newspaper like the New York Times or USA Today. Newspapers also lagged behind radio, which was cited as a news source by 54% of respondents.

The survey found that some 92% of Americans turn to multiple sources for their daily news fix. For instance, they might watch television news in the morning, listen to the news on the radio during their drive to work, glance at a newspaper in the lunch room and read about breaking news online at their desks.

"The Internet is at the center of the story of how people's relationship to news is changing," noted the report. "The process Americans use to get news is based on foraging and opportunism. They seem to access news when the spirit moves them or they have a chance to check up on headlines."

However, despite countless online news outlets, the survey found that most people visit only two to five sites daily. And 65% say they do not have a single favorite news Web site.

The study also reported that people increasingly want their news to be portable and customizable. For example, Pew found that 33% of cell phone owners read news on their phones, and 28% of Internet users have customized their home pages to show them news from sources and about topics that they're interested in.

However, the study also showed that people are becoming much more social about how they consume and share news.

"To a great extent, people's experience of news, especially on the Internet, is becoming a shared social experience as people swap links in e-mails, post news stories on their social networking site feeds, highlight news stories in their Tweets, and haggle over the meaning of events in discussion threads," the report noted. "For instance, more than eight in 10 online news consumers get or share links in e-mails. The rise of the Internet as a news platform has been an integral part of these changes."

And according to the survey, 51% of people on social networking sites like Facebook say that on a typical day they learn of news from people they follow. And 23% of those people follow news organizations or individual journalists on social networking sites.

"The advent of social media, like social networking sites and blogs, has helped the news become a social experience in fresh ways for consumers," the report noted. "People use their social networks and social networking technology to filter, assess, and react to news."

The study is based on telephone interviews with 2,259 American adults. The survey was conducted between Dec. 28, 2009 and Jan. 19, 2010.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, send e-mail to sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed .

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