October 4, 2012

Most digital news consumers now get information from Web-native sources like The Huffington Post, but they turn to “established” news outlets like the New York Times, CNN or Fox News for big events and mobile news, according to new research.

That is one finding from a national survey commissioned by The New York Times that examines the cross-platform behaviors of news consumers. Brian Brett, executive director of customer research, will present the findings today at the International Newsmedia Marketing Association’s Audience Summit in Chicago.

This data came from an online survey this spring by Knowledge Networks (a company later acquired by GfK Custom Research) of 3,022 U.S. residents 18 to 65, weighted to match the general population. Eighty-five percent of the respondents qualified as “news consumers” who get some kind of news at least a few times a week.

A majority (53 percent) of digital news consumers said they get information from Web-native sources, citing their convenience and accessibility. Only 43 percent regularly use traditional news sources for digital news, but they prefer it for in-depth reporting and trustworthiness.

Newer online outlets are more likely to be used as a daily news source.

The credibility and depth of established media outlets gives them an edge during breaking news situations. No matter which source first delivers a piece of breaking news, 60 percent of people said they turn to an established outlet as their “second source” to learn more.

Traditional outlets also have a significant lead on emerging mobile platforms, where they draw more readers than the upstart digital sources, the study says:

Majorities of smartphone news readers and tablet news readers turn to traditional news sources.

Social network surprises

The survey provides telling comparisons of how different social networks are used for news consumption.

Facebook has a huge base of one billion users, with more than one-third of Millennials using the network for news. Meanwhile, Google+ shows surprising parity with Twitter, and Pinterest does not register as a news source.

These patterns vary by age groups, with younger generations more likely to get news from social media.

More than one-third of Millenials get news from Facebook.

Social media also is a much bigger news source among people using mobile devices, a pattern consistently found in other recent studies.

30 percent of mobile users find news on Facebook.

Sharing is more than social media

Despite all the social sharing buttons littering news sites, the study finds the top methods of sharing news are still word of mouth and email. (See earlier: Limited use of sharing buttons | Sharing buttons look “a little desperate“)

A significant number of Baby Boomers still tear out articles from print media to share with others.

Young people get more mobile news

The results include a chart that contrasts the types of media people use generally with the types of media they use for news specifically.

The contrasts are instructive — for example, the percentage of print newspaper readers is smaller than the percentage of people who own smartphones but greater than the percentage who get news on smartphones.

TVs and computers are the leading media for news consumption.

But that analysis varies quite a bit across generations. Millenials are more likely to own smartphones and to use them for news, and far less likely to use print newspapers, radio or TV for news.

Millenials show different news consumption habits.

Mobile users get more news

Mobile news consumers also are increasing their news consumption faster than non-mobile users. (See earlier: Mobile news consumers get more news from more sources)

Almost a third of people who get news on mobile devices are getting more news than they did a year ago, the research found.

Older generations get news earlier

Perhaps this is not too surprising, but it’s interesting to see the pattern charted: Young people sleep in and get news later in the day, while older generations consume their news earlier in the day.

I combined three charts into one animation so you can clearly see the leftward shift in time-of-day usage from Millenials to Gen X’ers to Boomers:

The overall lessons of this survey are that young people are driving big trends in social media and mobile news consumption, which means those trends will last and grow into the long-term.

Traditional news sources have some helpful advantages in brand loyalty and credibility as they move into these uncharted spaces, and should lean on those strengths while trying to adapt appropriate lessons from newer digital news outlets.

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Jeff Sonderman (jsonderman@poynter.org) is the Digital Media Fellow at The Poynter Institute. He focuses on innovations and strategies for mobile platforms and social media in…
Jeff Sonderman

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