Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

State of the News Media 2015

Digital News — Audience: Fact Sheet

Last updated on May 18 to include a correction to the list of sites

A Pew Research Center analysis of digital traffic data provided by the analytics firm comScore reveals a mix of legacy (websites and associated apps of news organizations that have non-digital arms like newspapers) and digital-only news entities ranking among the most visited news organizations by U.S. digital audiences according to Pew Research Center criteria.1

The data, from January 2015, show that for the majority of these 50 most visited online news entities, mobile visits outpace desktop ones. But only for a minority do mobile visitors spend more time per visit.

Top Online News Entities

The top 50 news websites and associated applications in January 2015 – based on comScore’s measure of total U.S. desktop and mobile Web audience – include legacy news outlets, digital-only organizations, and some international news brands. Even among the top 10, though, total website and associated app audience varies dramatically – from roughly 130 million at the Yahoo-ABC digital network to just over 50 million for the U.K.-based Daily Mail. At the bottom of this list, The Dallas Morning News attracted 7 million visitors in the sample month of study.2 (See the full list of the top 50 news websites and associated apps, and read more about how Pew Research assembled it.)

[chart id=”49227″]

Digital Brands

As digital brands merge, splinter and mature, it becomes increasingly complicated to identify and rank the most popular digital news destinations. In order to provide as clear a sense as possible of the digital news leaders among U.S. audiences, researchers took several steps using comScore analytics.

First, we analyzed listings in comScore’s General News category and their separate Newspaper category. In addition, we obtained audience data from comScore on roughly 400 digital-only news outlets identified by the Pew Research Center. Within those lists, researchers took a number of steps to focus as much as possible on the website level (such as a consumer-facing and recognizable dot com, rather than the bundled holdings of its corporate parent). From there, researchers assembled the list of top 50 news websites and associated apps, based on unique visitors. Some news organizations list their Web entities in comScore’s database differently than others. To be as consistent as possible, we created the following guidelines listed below.There are still some instances where, because of an organization’s structure, there could be additional traffic that is not represented here. We have tried to footnote all such cases.

  • For listings that own several sub-entities which are a part of the main Web presence (i.e. a user would have access to the sub-entity content once on the main website) we used the following guidelines:
    • If more than half of those sub-entities are news-focused, researchers defaulted to the larger entity as the listing and the unit of measure (an example here would be the Yahoo-ABC News Network).
    • If fewer than half of the sub-entities are news-focused, researchers used the largest news channel listed as the unit of measure. For example, U.S. News and World Report includes as well as; we chose to break out and report
  • For listings that own sub-entities that are entirely different websites, but nevertheless are listed under a common owner, researchers examined the traffic for each of the websites (and any associated apps) separately. (An example here would be Cox Media Group or Media General, both of which own multiple local news entities that do not share any Web presence with each other or with their corporate parent.)

In addition, in new conversations with comScore, Pew Research Center was informed of and provided with new digital populations that are inclusive of app traffic for the three cable network entities in the Cable News section of the report, in the case of CNN the addition of some sub-domains which are tracked separately in comScore. For most other news entities analyzed in this report, all relevant sub-domains are already included.

While desktop visits are still valuable to publishers – especially when it comes to time spent on the site – the number of mobile visits now outpaces desktop visits for the majority of the top 50 sites and associated apps. (The total traffic number reflects the unduplicated combination of a site’s mobile and desktop U.S. audiences, while the separate desktop and mobile numbers represent the totals within each platform. For that reason, desktop and mobile figures combined may exceed the total unduplicated audience figure.)

[chart id=”49228″]

Indeed, 39 of the top 50 news sites and associated apps had more mobile visitors than desktop in the time period studied.3 (In addition, four had roughly similar amounts of mobile and desktop traffic, and seven had more desktop traffic than mobile.) MSN news, part of the Web portal launched by Microsoft in the mid-1990s, shows the heaviest reliance on desktop visits, which in January amounted to nearly four times that of mobile. At the other end of the spectrum, sites including,, and stood out for having the greatest portion of their audience arrive through a mobile device.

When it comes to the amount of time a visitor spends with a digital news brand, however, the desktop computer still holds sway. For just 10 of the top 50 digital news sites and their associated apps, mobile visitors spent more time per visit than desktop.4 Several legacy organizations are in that mix, including the websites of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, as are a number of digital-native outlets such as and


[chart id=”49231″]

For half of the top 50 outlets (25), desktop visitors spent at least 10% more time per visit than did those coming to the site or app on their mobile device. For another 15, the time spent was roughly equal.

Digital-Native News Entities

To better understand how newer organizations not tied to a legacy platform are performing on the Web, Pew Research Center requested data on more than 400 digital-only news outlets identified in our Growth in Digital Reporting chapter of the 2014 State of the News Media report. Some of these organizations, such as The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, also make it onto the list of the top news entities overall, but many others attract a much smaller audience. Of the full 400, only 50 had a large enough audience in the sample month studied (January 2015) to meet comScore’s reporting threshold.5

[chart id=”49232″]

Click here for the full list of digital native sites.

Among these 50, a similar mobile-vs.-desktop pattern emerges as with the larger news outlets described above. For most of those with mobile traffic data, more visits came through a mobile device than through desktop.

Still, nine digital-only entities received more desktop traffic than mobile – a greater portion than among the top 50 entities overall. Even “digital-first,” then, may not have turned mobile-first.

[chart id=”49233″]

Again, similar to the larger list of top 50 digital news entities, just a minority of these digital-only sites, 11 in all, had audiences that spent more time with them via a mobile device than a desktop.

  1. Data provided by comScore includes both desktop and mobile traffic via websites and associated mobile apps.
  2. The data have been corrected to include an earlier omission. has been added as number 41 on the list, and entities after that each moved down one ranking. Thus, the list now includes 51 outlets, but all findings are still based on the top 50 and have not changed.
  3. Pew Research Center considered the difference between a site’s desktop and mobile traffic to be significant if one was 10% greater than the other.
  4. Pew Research Center considered the difference between a site’s desktop and mobile traffic to be significant if one was 10% greater than the other.
  5. For comScore to report on a site, at least five of its panelists must visit that site during the time period studied.
Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Fresh data delivery Saturday mornings

Icon for promotion number 1

Sign up for The Briefing

Weekly updates on the world of news & information