News Consumers Are Grazers; Social Media Might Influence The Menu

Photo by Shavar Ross

People are still reading, watching and listening to news in the United States, but the way they consume news is changing. And 2011 might be the year that social media significantly influences news consumption.

Those were some highlights from a presentation by Amy S. Mitchell, the deputy director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. She spoke at the annual joint meeting of the Community Service Public Relations Council, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Public Relations Society of America on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011, in Frontenac, Mo.

Marketing and communications professionals must always be aware of the media landscape. Communicating through mass media is a fundamental strategy for most organizational communications plans. The Pew research shed light on shrinking newsrooms, budgets and revenues. It also provided a somewhat contradictory profile of a news consumer.

Consumption Continues

Mitchell said the average person spends 70 minutes per day consuming news. That’s an increase compared to a decade ago. They spend 57 minutes per day with radio, televisions and newspapers–the same as 10 years ago. However, consumers are spending another 13 minutes per day getting news on the web.

Photo by PennState Live

“People are not abandoning the old forms,” Mitchell said. “About 92 percent use multiple platforms — sometimes four to six platforms — on a daily basis.”

Online consumption is growing rapidly and is now closing in on television as the place people go for national and international news. Mitchell said the news consumer of today is a “news grazer.” They check the news several times per day in multiple places. The average time spent on an Internet news website is two minutes, 30 seconds–down from more than three minutes last year.

“One way to think about the traditional form of news consumption is a lean-back experience,” Mitchell said. “News today is very much a lean-in experience. Consumers know the information they want and they’re going to go find it. It’s a very different way of processing and accessing information.”

People are checking their social networks to see what their friends are reading and talking about. Mitchell said 62 percent of Internet news consumers use social networks like Facebook. Seventy-seven percent of social network users say they get their news there. Facebook is the third-highest referring site to news websites.

“This is a critical development for news providers,” Mitchell said. “What began as a pass-along effect is now evolving into a way of starting news consumption. People are asking friends and turning to friends for what news they should care about. Facebook is their trusted circle of friends — their search universe — to create their news diet.”

Amazingly Negative Numbers

Mitchell shared some startlingly negative financial information for legacy media, especially the newspaper industry:

  • Newspaper revenue declined 41 percent in the last two years. “Financial analysts say half of the losses are because of the economic downturn, the other half are structural,” such as the loss of classified advertising revenue, Mitchell said. “And those dollars are not going to return. Audiences have moved online, but advertising revenues have not.”
  • CNN experienced a 36-percent decline in prime-time audience.
  • The rate of online advertising fell 48 percent last year. “Online ads cost a fraction of what they cost in a legacy media product,” Mitchell said. “There’s too much space online and it’s hard to find enough advertising to fill it. You can’t ramp up dollar value if you have too much to sell.”
  • Approximately $1.6 billion has been lost in annual newspaper newsroom budgets since 2000. “That’s a tremendous amount of loss,” Mitchell said. “More than half of the newspapers in America no longer have a staffer in Washington, D.C. The person who is watching your Congressman or Senator may well be a wire service reporter or someone else.”

There was some good news. Political advertising revenue provided a boost for nearly all media sectors. And newspapers cannot abandon their print products because they are still producing a significant amount of revenue.

Tomorrow: Another post with Mitchell’s perspective on the evolution of journalism.


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