Digital news and social media continue to grow, with mobile devices rapidly becoming one of the most common ways for Americans to get news. As journalists and media practitioners gather for the annual Online News Association conference, here are 10 key findings from recent Pew Research Center reports about today’s digital news media landscape:
2Use of mobile devices for news continues to grow. As of spring 2017, 45% of U.S. adults often get news on a mobile device, up from 36% in 2016 and 21% in 2013. The use of desktop or laptop computers for news remains steady, with 31% saying they often get news this way. In all, 85% of Americans ever get news on a mobile device, the same proportion who do so on a desktop computer. And, among those who get news both ways, mobile devices are increasingly preferred. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of U.S. adults who get news on both mobile and desktop prefer mobile, up from 56% in 2016.
3Older adults are driving the growth in mobile news use. More than eight-in-ten U.S. adults (85%) now get news on a mobile device, up from 72% in 2016. The recent surge has mainly come from growth among older Americans. Roughly two-thirds (67%) of those ages 65 and older now get news on a mobile device, a 24-percentage-point jump from 2016 and about three times the share in 2013. Mobile news use also grew among those ages 50 to 64, with about eight-in-ten (79%) now getting news on mobile, about double the share from 2013. Large increases in mobile news use also occurred among those in lower-income households.
5Nonwhites and the less educated increasingly say they get news on social media. About three-quarters of nonwhites (74%) get news on social media sites, up from 64% in 2016. This means that nonwhites (including all racial and ethnic groups, except non-Hispanic white) are now more likely than whites (64%) to get news on social media. Social media news use also increased to 69% in 2017 among those with less than a bachelor’s degree, surpassing those with a college degree or higher (63%).
While social media is a common pathway to news, when people follow news links, source recognition is lower for news accessed through these platforms than it is when the link comes from a news organization. When news links came directly from a news organization’s emails, texts or alerts, the individual could name a source for that link 78% of the time. That far outpaced source recall when a link came through social media (52% of such instances) or a friend’s email or text (50%).
9Online news that comes via emails and texts from friends or family is the type of news encounter most likely to result in a follow-up action. Among the five pathways studied, news instances spurred by emails and texts from friends or family elicited the most activity; nearly three-quarters (73%) of these instances were acted upon in some way. That outpaced social media and direct visits to a news organization’s website, where a follow-up action occurred in about half of news instances (53% and 47%, respectively). Overall, talking with someone offline, whether in person or over the phone, was the most common action taken with digital news.
10An analysis of nearly 2,700 different search terms associated with the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, shows that online searches can be a good proxy for the public’s interests, concerns or intentions. The data revealed that residents of Flint were searching for information about their water before the government recognized the contamination and before local and regional news media coverage intensified beyond a handful of stories related to the initial switch of the water supply. While news was the first type of information people searched for, questions about personal and public health implications soon came to the forefront. The politics of the water crisis – which involved the governor of Michigan, the city of Flint and several agencies – did not resonate as a local search topic until President Barack Obama reacted, when the story spread nationally.