Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Understanding the Participatory News Consumer

The vast majority of Americans get their news from multiple news platforms and 59% get news from both online and offline sources on a typical day 

The internet is now the third most popular news platform after TV

Most online news surfers use just a handful of sites and just 35% have a favorite site

33% of cell owners get news on their mobile devices; 28% of internet users have personalized their news experience; 37% of internet users have participated in creating or reacting to news  

WASHINGTON – The overwhelming majority of Americans (92%) use multiple platforms to get their daily news.

And the internet is now the third most-popular news platform. It falls behind local and national television news and ahead of national print newspapers, local print newspapers and radio. Still, the overall reality is that the internet fits into a broad pattern of news consumption by Americans. Six in ten (59%) get news from a combination of online and offline sources on a typical day.

Just 7% of American adults get their daily news from a single media platform, and those who do typically rely on either the internet or local television news.

“Americans have become news grazers both on and offline – but within limits,” says Amy Mitchell, Deputy Director for The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, “They generally don’t have one favorite website but also don’t search aimlessly. Most online news consumers regularly draw on just a handful of different sites.”

The internet and mobile technologies are at the center of the story of how people’s relationship to news is changing. In today’s new multi-platform media environment, people’s relationship to news is becoming portable, personalized, and participatory:

  • Portable: 33% of cell phone owners now access news on their cell phones.
  • Personalized: 28% of internet users have customized their home page to include news from sources and on topics that particularly interest them.
  • Participatory: 37% of internet users have contributed to the creation of news, commented about it, or disseminated it via postings on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

The rise of social media like social networking sites and blogs has helped the news become a social experience for consumers; people use their social networks and social networking technology to filter, assess, and react to news. They also use traditional email and other tools to swap stories and comment on them.

These findings form the centerpiece of a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the Project for Excellence in Journalism aimed at understanding today’s news environment and the “new” news consumer. The report is based on a national telephone survey of 2,259 adults ages 18 and older.

“News awareness is becoming an anytime, anywhere, any device activity for those who want to stay informed,” argued Kristen Purcell, Associate Director for Research at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.  “We see new segments of avid news consumers built around those who have set up news alerts and those who are eager to be part of the news-creation and news-commentary environment.”

Other main findings from the report:

  • Six in ten American adults (61%) get news online on a typical day, and 71% of Americans get news online at least occasionally.   
  • Getting news is an important social act. Some 72% of American news consumers say they follow the news because they enjoy talking with others about what is happening in the world and 69% say keeping up with the news is a social or civic obligation. Moreover, among those who get news online, 75% get news forwarded through email or posts on social networking sites and 52% share links to news with others via those means.
  • When getting news online, Americans use just a handful of news sites and do not have a favorite. The majority of online news consumers (57%) routinely rely on just two to five websites for their news, and only 35% have a favorite.
  • Portal websites like Google News, AOL and Topix are the most commonly used online news sources, visited by over half of online news users (56%) on a typical day.  Also faring well are the sites of traditional news organizations with an offline presence, such as CNN, BBC and local or national newspapers. Age, political party and ideology all affect an individual’s preference for particular online news sources. 
  • The 26% of Americans who get news on their cell phones are typically white males, median age 34, who have graduated from college and are employed full-time. Overall, cell users under age 50 are almost three times as likely as their older counterparts to get news on their cell phones (43% v. 15%). 
  • Americans have mixed feelings about the current news environment. Over half (55%) say it is easier to keep up with news and information today than it was five years ago, but 70% feel the amount of news and information available from different sources is overwhelming.
  • Americans also have mixed feelings about the quality of news today. Just under two-thirds (63%) agree with statement that “major news organizations do a good job covering all of the important news stories and subjects that matter to me.” Yet 71% also agree that “most news sources today are biased in their coverage.” 

This report is based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research International between December 28, 2009, and January 19, 2010, among a sample of 2,259 adults, 18 and older, who were contacted on landline and cell phones.  For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. For results based internet users (n=1,675) and “online news users” (N= 1,582), the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. 

About the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the internet and how their activities affect their lives.

About the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism is dedicated to trying to understand the information revolution. PEJ specializes in using empirical methods to evaluate and study the performance of the press, particularly content analysis; it is non-partisan, non-ideological and non-political.

PEJ’s goal is to help both the journalists who produce the news and the citizens who consume it develop a better understanding of what the press is delivering, how the media are changing, and what forces are shaping those changes. We have emphasized empirical research in the belief that quantifying what is occurring in the press, rather than merely offering criticism, is a better approach to understanding.

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