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Numbers on the News

chicago dyke's picture

There are a lot of important figures here, and you should take some of them as an indication of your homework for the week. I suspect the slowdown has to do with the population being divided into "highly motivated" and "less motivated" news readers. We've probably saturated the former, and getting the latter into the habit will take more personal recommendations; I suspect advertising won't work as well with them.

Mon Jul 31, 8:13 AM ET
Far more Americans use the Internet to get their news than a decade ago but the rate of online news audience growth is slowing, according to a study released on Sunday.
Nearly one in three Americans regularly used the Internet to get their news in 2006, compared to one in 50 in 1996, according to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press. That number is about the same as it was two years ago, said Pew Research Center Director Andrew Kohut.

The growth rate in online news usage has been slower among younger readers. The percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who get the news online at least three days a week rose only 1 percentage point to 30 percent during the past six years.

The percentage growth among readers age 35 to 49 has risen 12 percent in the same time period, according to the study.

For political purposes, this is the important number. While kids are the future, they don't vote as frequently as adults. So this has the potential to be good news for our side. Be sure to double your emailing efforts to nonblogging friends in the coming months.

On a wider level, the percentage of Americans who skip the news on a single day has remained the same since the 1990s, the study said. "Nor are Americans spending any more time with the news than they did a decade ago when their news choices were much more limited."

A very interesting point.

"For young people in particular, getting the news often takes a back seat to other daily activities," said the study, which was based on telephone interviews with more than 3,200 U.S. adults in April and May.

Forty percent of those under age 30 said they watched a movie at home on video, DVD or pay-per-view yesterday, compared to 24 percent who said they read a newspaper or went online for news.

Depressing, no?

The study highlights one of the biggest problems facing the news businesses—keeping and growing their audience. Newspapers in particular have suffered declining circulation as people seek their news elsewhere, often for free on television and the Internet.

Well, duh. Not only for the free part; sometimes it's nice to be informed, something the lapdogs in the SCLM refuse to help us with.

Four in 10 Americans reported reading a newspaper "yesterday," down from 50 percent a decade ago and down from 71 percent reported by a Gallup survey in 1965, the Pew study said.

Again: deliver shit for a product and you'll get only the shit-eaters for an audience.

Newspaper publishers have embarked on public relations and educational campaigns to try to reverse the circulation decline. They have also been devoting more money and staff to their Web sites to chase readers and advertising dollars that many of their print editions are losing.

While that has succeeded to some degree, the study found, newspaper readership is falling. "Even the highest estimate of daily newspaper readership—43 percent for both print and online readers—is still well below the number reading a print newspaper on a typical day 10 years ago," the study said.

Hence the explosion of blogs.

Online news consumers tend to visit large Web-news operations run by cable networks or online media companies. Thirty-one percent of people who regularly get news on the Internet listed MSNBC as one of the sites they use most often. Twenty-three percent picked Yahoo.com.

The New York Times and Gannett Co. Inc.'s USA Today Web sites were the most popular among regular newspaper Web sites, with 5 percent saying those sites were ones they visit most often.

So as much as they claim to hate us, it's clear that the number crunchers at the Times and other majors understand where the future lies.

I don't have a complex thesis on this right now, but I would think that there are a couple of factors that anyone interested in expanding the online news audience has to consider. The first has to do with the depressing truth that fewer Americans every day take an interest in their world. There are many reasons for this, I suspect: declining standards in education, consumerist psy-ops, the competition from gameboys and other "more fun" video devices, the fact that many have to work longer and harder just to get by and are too tired to invest time in news consumption, and the fact that increasingly, the news about our world well, just plain sucks.

So it's an uphill challenge to convince those who are less motivated to learn about the world, even as that world becomes more interesting every day.
Which leads me to my other point- I don't think traditional models of expanding the audience are going to work in the future. Again, I think there are many factors in this, not the least of which has to do with the way in which Americans are a very savvy audience in the consumer sense. 50+ years of increasingly sophisticated marketing technique means that only the most sophisticated forms are going to really "work." At the same time, personal experience tells me that there are simple ways to increase reader numbers. Blogwhoring works, for reasons I both do and do not understand.

If I were in marketing, I'd do a study of people who were formerly daily paper readers who are now internet readers. I remember my own conversion, and for me it was a simple matter of having a feeling that I was missing out on a lot of information, and not being able to figure out why. Of course, that proved to be very, very true, and I thank the Goddess every day for the intertubes. But I think there are a myriad of stories behind the transitions people make to internet news consumption. In those narratives, the future of a larger internet audience is found.

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