PEJ State of the News Media 2010: Summary Essay Highlights

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released its comprehensive The State of the News Media 2010 report Monday morning. Highlights follow from the summary essay of its Online section:

The state of online news heading into 2010 may best be described as a moving target.

Digital delivery is now well established as a part of most Americans’ daily news consumption. Six in 10 Americans get some news online in a typical day, and most of these also get news from other media platforms, as well.

Yet it remains unclear how best to count the audience online. Should those with an interest in knowing the count care more about total unique visitors, number of page views, or time per visit? And are some users more valuable than others? Do news organizations want to amass the largest possible audience, including those who will return often but usually for quickly read stories across a wide range of topics? Or will a small, loyal audience that digs deeper and returns more often in the end prove more valuable? Overall, the data suggest users do not stay anywhere for long, with search clearly taking an increasing role in news consumption.

The year past proved important for social media establishing themselves as a part of the media ecosystem. The power here had less to do with reporting than serving as a place for people to quickly come together around an issue that they feel passionately about to share concerns, pass along information, offer financial contributions, and, in several cases, bring about change.

Citizen news sites continued to evolve, as well, in part because, still financed with start-up funds or contributions from nonprofits, they were less affected in some cases by the recession’s downturn in advertising. New research released as part of this report, however, provides more evidence that even the most established citizen sites are not in a position to take on the job of traditional news outlets. Instead, what has begun to emerge is more of a coming together of the two, particularly at the local level.

Consumers meanwhile, are quickly moving on to even newer forms of communication. Blogging is declining in frequency, while 26 percent of Americans now get news on their cell phones, and one-half of online news consumers with social-networking sites use those pages for news.

One thing that is becoming clearer is the way people use digital technology to acquire news. The American news consumer is increasingly becoming a grazer, across both online and offline platforms. On a typical day, nearly one-half of Americans now get news from four to six different platforms, from online to TV to print and more, according to new research from PEJ and the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Within the online universe the same pattern holds true. People graze across multiple Websites for their news. Only 21 percent say they tend to rely primarily on one destination; only one-third even say they have a favorite news Website (35 percent) among those they use. But these online news grazers do not range far. Most (57 percent) usually rely on 2-5 Websites.

The stories and issues that draw the most attention in blogs and on Twitter differ substantially from the mainstream press. In the 47 weeks studied during 2009, blogs and the mainstream press shared the top story just 13 times. And in Twitter, there was even less overlap.

Among the two social-media platforms, Twitter users strayed the farthest from the mainstream press. Blogs were a bit more traditional, at least in the sources they drew on. On both platforms, though, one clear characteristic was the ability of new media to quickly trigger and concentrate passionate debate and activity around a specific issue.