Facebook users get news from family & friends, Twitter users get news from journalists

Today’s annual report on the State of the News Media shows that new technologies really are pressing journalists to do much more with much less.

Last week, we learned that newspaper industry ad revenue was down 7.3 percent this year to its lowest level since 1984 (or 1954, adjusted for inflation). As a result, newsrooms continue to shrink.

But The Project For Excellence in Journalism’s report shows us that the needs and demands of the audience are growing and fragmenting.

Social media is an important source of news, the report says, but remains smaller and only “supplemental” to other discovery methods like directly visiting a news website, searching the Web or browsing an aggregator.

People who own smartphones or tablets are using them heavily to consume news, but they also continue to frequently use a laptop or desktop computer to get news.

People are adding devices while still consuming news on the older ones, which means journalists cannot ignore any platform, though they have fewer resources to serve any of them.

“Consumers are drawn to newer forms [of news consumption] and may even make them their primary mode,” the report says, “but they are not abandoning older forms altogether. Instead their news experience widens and deepens.”

The State of the News Media report relies heavily on a new survey of how U.S. adults are using social media and mobile devices to get news.

Here are some of the notable statistics about social and mobile journalism from the survey:

More than half the people who own smartphones or tablets use them to get news.

Most Americans now get news on a digital device. The desktop or laptop computer still leads the way, with 70 percent getting news there. But tablets and smartphones are spreading and 23 percent get news on at least two types of devices.

Only 9 percent of all U.S. adults get news “very often” from social media. We know social networking websites and mobile apps are popular and widely used, but perhaps not so much for news.

If you narrow the scope to people who get some form of digital news, 52 percent use social media for news at least sometimes.

Of course, social media’s value can’t be measured only by the size of its audience. Social media can infuse journalism with meaningful engagement, discussion and collaboration that benefits all readers in all media. Social media also currently drives about 9 percent of traffic to news sites.

Other discovery methods are spread evenly. 36 percent of U.S. adults get news “very often” directly from a news organization’s website or app, 32 percent via search and 29 percent through an aggregating website or app.

Facebook is a larger news source than Twitter, and includes most of the Twitter audience. Overall, 7 percent of people get news from Facebook very often, while 3 percent do so from Twitter. Lower the standard to “somewhat often,” and Facebook gets an additional 19 percent while Twitter gets another 4 percent.

Meanwhile, “fully 82% of those who ever get some news via Twitter recommendations also get some news via Facebook recommendations.”

Facebook and Twitter users get news through different filters, though. “Facebook users follow news links shared by family and friends; Twitter users follow links from a range of sources,” the report summarizes.

While 70% of people get their Facebook news from friends and family, only 36% percent rely on those sources on Twitter.

Perhaps related, social media users perceive the content they get from Twitter to be more often unique than what they discover through Facebook:

People who follow news on Twitter are more likely to be male, younger (18-29) and more well educated than the general population.

Overall, this picture of news consumption paints a swath of priorities for news organizations. They must simultaneously maintain an excellent website, optimize for search, solicit beneficial aggregation, engage social networks, build smartphone apps and design tablet Web apps. No audience on one platform is small enough to ignore, and none is big enough to override the others.

Join PEJ Director (and Poynter National Advisory Board Member) Tom Rosenstiel for a webinar on the State of the Media, Wednesday, March 28 at 2 p.m. ET to learn more about what changing audience habits mean for journalists.

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  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    I’m told that the 9% is reinforced by other data, including Hitwise’s finding that roughly 9% of traffic to news sites comes from social media referrals, which is noted in this chapter: http://journ.us/GCE43s –Julie

  • http://twitter.com/ProducerMatthew Matthew Keys

     Good thought Julie. I’d be interested in hearing the answer to that too. Lots of variables it seems.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Your skepticism led me to look at the topline results — http://stateofthemedia.org/files/2012/03/Facebook-and-Twitter-Topline.pdf — which raise a related question: What do respondents mean by “very often” and do they all mean the same thing? The question didn’t ask about specific frequency (e.g. several times a day/several times a week/several times a month) so there could be great variation in what people meant by “very often” and, as a result, great variation in how they responded. –Julie

  • http://twitter.com/ProducerMatthew Matthew Keys

     I agree with that, but I think the sample is too small to generalize the results to all Americans.

    Based on my calculations — and I could be wrong — 3,016 is just 0.000977% of all Americans in the United States (based on the 2010 census, which says the population is 308,745,538).

    The results of the survey are interesting, I’m not trying to discount that, but I think the survey needed a larger sample — at the very least, one percent of the population — before we can feel safe about generalizing it to the population as a whole.

    In other words, I’m not entirely convinced that only 9 percent of U.S. adults get their news very often from social media.

  • http://twitter.com/AlexJDiakonis Alexander Diakonis

    WOW! this is amazing.   I know that there is a movement toward instant news. Headline News was perhaps the beginning.

    Is this movement to digital news going to kill hard copy print news or is this just another change to the industry? How can we make news shared more evenly on other platforms other than social media? Can news orgs. afford to hire someone to write smartphone and tablet apps as well as turn profit? This is an interesting and scary time for many journalists!

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    That’s true. And — part of the value of the research is the expectation (based on sampling) that it can be generalized to the population at large. We’d all be much less interested in a survey of 3,016 adults if we thought it only applied to those 3,016 adults. –Julie

  • http://twitter.com/ProducerMatthew Matthew Keys

    “Only 9 percent of all U.S. adults get news “very often” from social media.”

    This is wrong. What it should read is:

    “Only 9 percent of U.S. adults surveyed said they received their news ‘very often’ from social media.”

  • http://twitter.com/miguelsmirnoff Miguel Smirnoff

    I perceive that the study considers the act of “getting the news” as similar for different media (print, television, social networks) though it admits some differences between Facebook and Twitter, for instance. My perception is that the act is shaped by the medium; believing the news is, yes, influenced by family and friends and may be decimated when advertising or promotion is detected. Yet, the most important factor here is the existence of earlier beliefs by the individual. If the individual has no earlier beliefs on the subject. he/she may be more open to the news, whatever the medium.