Is your online paper worthless? Pew Study results

The last few years a lot of JACC programs have put more and more effort into developing online editions. But is it doing them any good? Probably, but not by much if you extrapolate results from the latest PEW Research Center for the People and the Press’ study of public consumption of news.

The report showed that online papers only modestly boost newspaper readership. It also found that online-only publications probably are not a good idea.

The full report can be found here.

There are too many numbers in the report –boy, are there numbers!– to adequately summarize the report. Plan to read it multiple times as there are lots of interesting factoids in there that you will want to sprinkle through your mass comm classes. But you are not going to want to print out either the full 121-page report or even the 54 pages of non-tables portion.

Major sections covered in the report include attitudes about wathcing reading and listening to the news, challenges for newspapers, attitudes toward the news, audience segments and media credibility (perceived as most credible: FOX news!).

And because the report was researching mainstream media, it is hard to extrapolate it accurately and apply it to college media.

But if you try, there is a lot of bad news and some good news. There are some interesting clues on what we might do to make ourselves more relevant.

For instance:

Even online news consumers who mention content as setting the internet apart focus on the speed of the medium. You can “get alerts as things occur,” said one, while others offered similar comments – the internet is “frequently updated,” and “more up to date” than other sources.”

Clear is the fact that those who are not publishing online are already irrelevant. Any colleges not putting effort into at least an online edition to supplement the print edition simply are behind the times. Likewise, if all publications are doing is presenting online only what they provide in their print edition, they also are behind the times.

The study showed that newspaper readership declines have leveled off some because of the addition of online versions, but that they are still going down. Those more likely to read online editions are those who are also reading the print editions, but of online-only readers, more are likely to be younger audiences. The number of young online readers is small, though.

What IS working is a multi-approach to delivering news: print, online, broadcast, cell phone/PDA, iPod, etc. While even that number is small, for college audiences, especially diverse community college audiences, there is some good news:

A relatively small number of Americans – about 7% of the general public – are getting news via one or more of these types of electronic devices, with just 4% doing so at least a few times a week.

But among some groups in the population, the numbers are substantially higher. For example, among young men (ages 18-29) nearly one-in-five (19%) report getting news this way, as do 15% of African Americans and 13% of Hispanics.”

Some other interesting findings that might affect how we develop our community college publications:

  • The only sections of the newspaper that younger readers spend more time on than their seniors are features such as comics, puzzles, games and horoscopes.

    Yuck, but it is one of the reasons we include comics in some of our Cerritos College Talon Marks print editions AND our online edition.

  • Roughly two-thirds (64%) who visit a newspaper website on a typical day go to a paper’s homepage to browse or look for something.

    Four-in-ten (39%) report following links to specific newspaper articles from other websites or search engines, most of which bypass the paper’s homepage and go directly to the story of interest. Fewer (12%) report reading the newspaper yesterday based on e-mailed links from friends or associates.

    Many who read newspapers online arrive there through more than one of these routes, though as many as one-in-four on a typical day read access newspaper websites only through links from other sites or e-mails, rather than going directly to a newspaper homepage.

    Thank goodness for Web sites that have “e-mail this story” links and “most e-mailed” lists and for those with RSS feeds. (I reach about half of my online news through RSS feeds, especially blogs, though I DO visit home pages when I affirmatively seek out one of the major online news sites just to see what is going on.) BTW, the two-thirds of JACC publications online that use College Publisher have these features built in.

  • Blogs that discuss news events have become a destination for a significant number of young people, especially those ages 18-24. About one-in-ten (9%) in this age category say the regularly read these types of blogs, while another 10% say they sometimes do so.

    Nearly a quarter of those who say they went online for news yesterday say they read news blogs regularly (10%) or sometimes (12%). Yet even among these online news consumers, 62% say they never read news blogs.

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