June 27, 2005

Online newspapers gain a foothold

Our colleagues at the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press have just put out a new report about people’s views about news organizations and reporters.

It’s an important document for its comprehensiveness and insights. And there are some new findings about the popularity and role of online versions of newspapers. Some excerpts:

“The internet continues to grow as a source of news for Americans. One-in-four (24%) list the internet as a main source of news. Roughly the same number (23%) say they go online for news every day, up from 15% in 2000; the percentage checking the web for news at least once a week has grown from 33% to 44% over the same time period.

“While online news consumption is highest among young people (those under age 30), it is not an activity that is limited to the very young. Three-in-ten Americans ages 30-49 cite the internet as a main source of news.

“The importance of the web for people in their working years is even more apparent when the frequency of use is taken into account. One-third of people in their 30s say they get news online every day, as do 27% of people in their 40s. Nearly a quarter of people in their 50s get news online daily, about the same rate as among people ages 18-29.

“But what of the growing online presence of both national and local newspapers? How important an element are newspapers as part of the overall mix of internet news sources?

“The current study includes two measures that provide some insight into this growing news source. First, by a 90%-6% margin, respondents who say they rely on newspapers as a main source almost universally mean the printed version of the paper, not the online version. Second, when respondents cite the internet as a main source, most are including their use of online newspapers. Fully 62% of internet news consumers say they read the websites of local or national newspapers.

“Combined, these questions indicate that while 40% of Americans count the printed newspaper as a main source of news, another 16% are reading newspapers as part of their internet news consumption. The relevance of online newspaper readership is most important among younger Americans. While only about a third of those under age 40 count the printed newspaper as a main source of news (compared with half of those age 50 and older), another 20% say the online version is at least a part of their internet use. While younger people tend to consume far less news overall than their seniors, newspapers – in one form or another – remain a key part of the media mix for majorities in all age groups.

“Convenience is more important than cost in explaining why many Americans are reading the paper online instead of in print. Among those who say they read the web-version of the newspaper, 73% cite convenience, compared with just 8% who do so because it is free. Most Americans say they are reading the print version as much (50%) or more often (12%) than they did before they began reading the paper online. But 35% say the printed newspaper is something they look at less often now that they are using newspapers’ websites.

“Visitors to newspaper websites are starkly different from print newspaper readers in terms of their demographics, but not their politics. In addition to being much younger than readers of printed newspapers, the online newspaper audience is mostly male, wealthy, and highly educated. Nearly half of web- newspaper readers have college degrees, compared with 27% of those who rely on print, and one-in-five have household incomes of over $100,000.

“People who mostly use newspaper websites instead of newspapers are more likely to describe themselves as liberal (30% vs. 20%, respectively), but are no more likely to think of themselves as Democrats, and divided their votes between Bush and Kerry in the 2004 election along almost precisely the same lines as regular newspaper readers.

“Where the views of online newspaper readers differ more dramatically is in their evaluations of mainstream media organizations. People who read the newspaper online have a far less favorable opinion of network and local TV news programming than do people who read the print version, and also have a somewhat less favorable view of the daily newspaper they are most familiar with. But consumers of online newspapers feel far more favorably toward large nationally influential newspapers, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post.”