August 17, 2008

Key News Audiences Now Blend Online and Traditional Sources

Online and Digital News

Online news consumption continues to grow, and substantial minorities of Americans are now taking advantage of specialized web-based and digital tools to get the news. Overall, 37% of the public – including more than half of those who go on the internet (55%) – say they regularly get news online. A decade ago, just 13% of the public, and 35% of internet users, went online for news at least three days a week.

FigureFrom online news feeds to social networking sites and news updates by cell phone, Americans use a variety of technologies to get the news.

Overall, 22% of Americans say they have a customizable web page, such as iGoogle, that includes news items. Among the heaviest web news consumers – those who go online for news daily – fully 44% say they have a customizable web page that incorporates news items.

A third of all Americans – and half of those who go online – say they regularly or sometimes watch news programs or video clips on the web. And while social networking sites have yet to catch on as a major news source for young people, one-in-ten of those who have social networking profiles say they regularly get information about the news from social networking pages – about the same proportion that regularly watches “The Daily Show” or listens to NPR.

Despite the popularity of new web-based and other information sources, there are persistent demographic differences in online news consumption. A decade ago, college graduates were far more likely than those with less education to regularly go online for news; that remains the case today, as fully 61% of college graduates go online for news at least three days a week, compared with just 19% of those with no more than a high school education.

More whites than African Americans regularly get news online, in part because a greater proportion of whites go on the internet. Although the percentage of blacks who regularly go online for news has tripled over the past decade (from 8% to 24%), African Americans continue to lag behind whites in regular online news consumption (38% of whites vs. 24% of blacks).

FigureSince the Pew Research Center’s 2006 news consumption survey, there has been a substantial increase in the proportion of Americans who get the news online every day. A quarter say they go online for news every day, up from 18% two years ago; a decade ago, just 6% said they got news online on a daily basis.

This trend also underscores the education gap in online news consumption: Nearly all of the growth over the past two years has been among those who have attended at least some college. Fully 44% of college graduates now say they get news from the internet every day, up from 32% two years ago; the increase has been comparable among those who have attended but not completed college (from 18% to 30%). By contrast, just 11% of those with no more than a high school education get news online every day, which is virtually unchanged from 2006 (10%).

Online News Sources

FigureWeb portals, such as Yahoo and MSN, and other familiar names dominate the list of most frequented news sites among web news users. Yet the list of most-used news sites also reveals the internet’s diversity: While a large proportion of online news users mention a well-known site -28% mention Yahoo alone – numerous sites are mentioned by just 2% of respondents or fewer.

Aside from web portals, television news organizations also are frequently named by web news consumers; fully 17% name CNN.com, while 10% cite MSNBC/NBC, and 7% say Fox. The New York Times is the most frequently mentioned newspaper (4%), although The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The Washington Post are each named by 2% of the public.

Search Engines Used for News

Search engines continue to be an increasingly popular means of getting news on particular subjects. The proportion of all web news consumers who use search engines to look for stories has not grown appreciably; 83% say they use search engines to find stories of interest, about the same as in 2006.

FigureBut a growing percentage is using search engines more frequently. Nearly a third of online news users (31%) deploy search engines to look for stories at least three days a week, up from 24% two years ago and 19% in 2004.

There are relatively few demographic differences in search engine use among those who go online for news. Those 18 to 29 (86%) are somewhat more likely than the oldest web news consumers to use search sites, but even among those 65 and older, more than seven-in-ten (73%) use search engines for news. The highly educated search for news in higher percentages than those with no more than a high school degree, though, again, the gap is relatively modest (college graduates 86%, high school or less 77%).

Using a search engine does not necessarily mean that online news consumers are being taken to unfamiliar sites to read about stories of interest to them. In fact, a slim majority (51%) say that when searching for news, they are not usually taken to sites that are unfamiliar to them. Nearly as many (48%) say the opposite, and report going to unfamiliar websites when using search engines to find news.

Other Tools: News Ranking Sites

News-ranking websites, such as reddit.com and digg.com, have been growing in popularity, yet only a small share of internet news consumers (5%) say they have ever used one of these sites to find news stories.

The relatively small group that uses these sites is disproportionately young and male. About one-in-ten men younger than 30 who go online for news (11%) say they use news-ranking websites to find stories. By contrast, among those who get news online, only 3% of women under 30 and only 4% of men over 30 use these ranking sites.

Young People ‘Graze’ the Web

Overall, 73% of all online users say they come across news online when they have been on the web for another purpose. This is largely unchanged from 2006 (76%), but a decade ago far fewer people inadvertently got news online (54% in 1998).

The practice of coming across news inadvertently on the internet is prevalent among all age groups but is most popular among the very young: 84% of 18-to-24-year-old online news users get news in this way, compared with about three-quarters (73%) of internet news users between 25 and 64, and just 58% of those 65 and older.

FigureThis is one of several ways in which the online news habits of very young people differ from older people. For example, a solid majority of online news users younger than 25 (64%) say they more often follow links to news stories, rather than go directly to the homepages of news organizations themselves. By contrast, those who are a little older are more likely to go directly to the homepages of news sources; nearly half (48%) of those ages 25 to 29 do this, compared with only about a third (34%) of those just a few years younger.

Online News Activities

FigureReflecting the rapid growth of online video in recent years, a third of all Americans say they regularly or sometimes watch news programs or video online. Among those who go online, half either regularly (14%) or sometimes (36%) watch news video on the internet.

Nearly a quarter of Americans (24%) say they at least sometimes listen to newscasts online (5% regularly). About the same proportion of the public (23%) says they regularly or sometimes read blogs about politics or current events, with 10% doing this on a regular basis.

One-in-five people reports that they at least sometimes read comments from readers about news stories, though far fewer – just 7% – say they regularly or sometimes post comments on news stories themselves. Even among those who get news online, 75% say they never post comments about news stories.

Just 5% say they regularly or sometimes read online magazines, such as Slate or Salon. Among college graduates, one-in-ten does so.

Online Video’s Broad Appeal

Figure Among internet users, online news video is particularly popular with young people and African Americans. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of blacks who go online say they regularly (18%) or sometimes (47%) watch news video clips or programs; that compares with 47% of whites.

Almost six-in-ten (58%) internet users younger than 30 say they at least sometimes watch news video; those 50 and older are far less likely to do this.

Of those with a high school education who go online, fully 44% sometimes watch news video on the web. By comparison, online college graduates are only slightly more likely to do this (51% regularly/sometimes). These differences are more pronounced when based on the general public, because people with a high school education are less likely to go online than are those who have attended college (particularly college graduates).

Older Blog Readers

FigureOlder Americans – those ages 65 and older – lag far behind younger people in their use of the internet and in adapting to new web technologies, such as online news videos and social networking sites.

However, seniors who go online are at least as likely as younger people who go online to regularly read blogs about politics and current events. Roughly one-in-five of those 65 and older who go online (19%) say they regularly read such blogs; that compares with 14% of those ages 50 to 64, 15% of those in their 30s and 40s, and 12% of those younger than 30.

Those with no more than a high school education who go online are about as likely as college graduates to regularly read political or news blogs (13% vs. 14%). There are only modest partisan differences in regular blog reading: 22% of liberal Democrats who go online say they regularly read political or news blogs, compared with slightly smaller shares of other political groups.

Social Networking Sites

FigureFully 65% of people 18 to 24 – 82% of those who go online – say they have a profile on MySpace, Facebook or another social networking site. Online social networking is an activity dominated by those in their teens and early 20s: only about half as many people in their early 30s who go online have created social networking profiles (41%). Among older age groups, much smaller minorities have created profiles.

There also are sizable racial differences in social networking: among online users, African Americans are much more likely than whites to have a profile on MySpace, Facebook or a similar site (44% vs. 29%).

Roughly four-in-ten liberal Democrats (43%) who go online – and 32% of liberal Democrats overall – say they have a profile on social networking site. That is a greater percentage than in other political groups and fully twice the proportion of conservative Republicans who have social networking profiles.

Checking Profiles…Several Times a Day

FigureReflecting the popularity of social networking, more online young people say they visit a social networking site where they have a profile each day than say they go online for the news each day (46% vs. 31%). Among all online users, by contrast, far more people say they go online daily to get news than to check social networking websites (37% vs. 25%).

Most people younger than 25 who have a social network profile (56%) check their site at least daily, and a significant minority (31%) says they check the site several times a day. Older social network users check their sites much less frequently.

Getting the News from Facebook & MySpace

FigureFor a minority of Americans, social networking sites themselves are a source of information about news and current events. Three-in-ten of those who have social network profiles say they regularly (10%) or sometimes (20%) get information about local, national or international news through social network sites.

For people with social network profiles, local TV, cable news, newspapers and other traditional outlets are far more frequent news sources than are the pages of social network sites. However, about as many people with social network profiles say they regularly get news from these sites as say they regularly listen to NPR (11%) or watch the late-night comedy programs “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report” (10% each).

Social network pages also offer the opportunity to share news stories. About a quarter of those with social network profiles either regularly (6%) or sometimes (18%) shares information about local, national or international news on their social network page.

Online News on Demand

FigureMany web news consumers take advantage of a variety of online tools to tailor the news to their needs and time demands. More than a third (36%) say they have a customizable web page, such as iGoogle or My Yahoo, that includes news items; 12% say they have an RSS reader that includes news items; and 25% say they receive email news alerts and summaries. Fully half of all online news users say they have at least one of these tools or services.

FigureThere are few demographic differences among online news consumers in the use of these tools. Women are about as likely as men to report receiving the news in these ways and there are no significant differences across education levels. Compared with younger people, fewer Americans 50 and older who go online for news have a customizable news webpage. But older people are just as likely as middle-aged and younger people to have the news delivered to them by email or to receive an RSS feed. Blacks are somewhat more likely than whites to get news delivered by e-mail.

Not surprisingly, those who go online for news daily are more likely than those who do so less often to say they get news via email, RSS or customizable web pages.

Emailing News Stories

FigureA large majority of those who go online (68%) say they have been emailed a news story by a friend or associate. Somewhat fewer (47%) say they have sent a news story to someone. More people report both of these activities now than did so in 2006.

However, the proportions saying they have received or sent emailed stories in the past week have remained stable since 2006; 27% of internet users say they received an emailed story in the past week, including 12% who said this had happened today or yesterday.

Online at Work

FigureMore than four-in-ten full-time and part-time workers (44%) say they regularly go online from their place of work. There are substantial education and income gaps among those who go online from work and those who do not: three-quarters of those who have attended graduate school say they go online from work, nearly four times the proportion among those with no more than a high school education (20%). And while 66% of those with family incomes of $100,000 or more go online from work, just 20% of those with incomes of less than $30,000 do so.

Whites (45%) are somewhat more likely than blacks (34%) to go online from work, while workers older than 65 are significantly less likely than younger workers – especially those ages 30 to 49 – to say they access the internet at their job.

FigureA third of those who regularly go online at work say they get most of their news through the internet on a typical weekday, compared with 12% of those who do not regularly access the internet at work. Nonetheless, somewhat more online workers (39%) name television as their main source for news.

Interestingly, a majority of those who regularly go online from work (56%) say keeping up with the news is not important to their job.