It’s Official: Internet Surpasses Newspapers

In a report released December 23, 2008  from the Pew Reserach Center For The People & The Press one of the major findings was the fact that the Internet has emerged as a greater source of national and world news than newspapers. Only television news has supassed the Internet as a source of news, but the trend is that television is becoming less dominant.

In a summary of their report Pew is reporting:

Currently, 40% say they get most of their news about national and international issues from the internet, up from just 24% in September 2007. For the first time in a Pew survey, more people say they rely mostly on the internet for news than cite newspapers (35%). Television continues to be cited most frequently as a main source for national and international news, at 70%.

For young people, however, the internet now rivals television as a main source of national and international news. Nearly six-in-ten Americans younger than 30 (59%) say they get most of their national and international news online; an identical percentage cites television. In September 2007, twice as many young people said they relied mostly on television for news than mentioned the internet (68% vs. 34%).

The percentage of people younger than 30 citing television as a main news source has declined from 68% in September 2007 to 59% currently. This mirrors a trend seen earlier this year in campaign news consumption. (See “Internet Now Major Source of Campaign News,” News Interest Index, Oct. 31, 2008.)

The question that one must ask himself is whether the paradigm shift for the delivery of factual news and information from print to electrons serves the public better or worse than the traditional methodology. In my previous posting titled “The Death Of Journalism” I bemoan the fact that traditional newspapers (the printed version) and their journalistic values are a dying breed. However, all is not lost as traditional newspapers have been making the transition to the Internet, using the Internet as both a tool for gathering information, compiling information, and collaborating on editorial product for stories, and as the ultimate delivery channel to their readers. The issue facing newspapers is how to remain financially viable given lost advertising revenues from their print editions coupled with possibly less than satisfactory advertising revenues from their Internet editions, and virtually no subscription revenues from their Internet editions. (And the notion of the public that on the Internet everything is free.) It is becoming more and more apparent to me that the only viable, rational strategy for newspapers, if they wish to continue to survive, is to relieve themselves of the overhead of all print operations, which besides the expenses obvious with paper and ink, includes the transportation costs to deliver the product. The Christian Science Monitor made this decision last year, and is betting their future entirely on the Internet.

In my view the Internet is a tremendous opportunity for professional news organizations to continue to provide quality, accurate reporting to their readers, but these organizations have to adapt their business models if they wish to thrive, let alone, survive in this environment. What is important for the public, particularly the Internet generation who do not remember a world without the Internet, is to learn the art and skills of discernment. In the print world we have learned that you can’t believe everything you read, and that various news publishing organizations will have their editorial biases, and the same goes in the Internet world, but even more so. News consumers in the Internet generation need to understand that there is always the opportunity for more than one view on any given topic, need to understand that the quality of what they find in various corners of the Internet will vary, and natural skepticism is a trait that is important.

We must be concerned about the fact that Internet delivery of news and information provides an open playing field to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. Anyone can develop a web site or start a blog and theoretically reach a wide and diverse audience. This also means than anyone can write almost anything, whether factual, accurate or truthful or not, and have it seen by potentially many people. I don’t have any issue with anyone on the Internet expressing any opinion or belief, whether I agree with it out not, I do believe in freedom of expression, but consumers of information in the Internet generation must understand that just because they read anything on the Internet, that is no reason to accept it as accurate, complete or truthful. The Internet is an open and equal forum, where anyone has an opportunity to say anything, and an aware public will understand that no one has to take anything published on the Internet as “gospel”.

Two other findings in the Pew report that I found interesting is first, the fact television as a source of news for people 30 years old or younger has declined, which I find heartening, given my observations in my previous posting (see reference above). The other finding, which I find some what disconcerting, is the fact that of the top news stories published in 2008, the problems of the U.S. economy generated the most interest from readers, but that the war in Afghanistan and Iraq did not even make the list of the top 15 stories in terms of reader interest. Number 15 on the list was the Beijing Olympics, seeming to indicate to me that the general public would rather lose themselves in the fantasy that is the supposed amateur Olympic games, than the reality that so much human life is being lost for no good reason.

I hope newspapers do make a successful and lasting transition to the Internet, we cannot afford to lose true journalistic values in the gathering and dissemination of news and information, but I will really miss the intellectual satisfaction and emotional and tactile enjoyment of holding my daily newspaper in my hands, getting ink on my hands, as I take a peak at the world around me.

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