Study: Social Media Isn’t Replacing Traditional News Outlets At All


Chris Gayomali

March 17, 2014

The way we consume news is a hot topic in the media industry. Startups like Circa are banking on the fact that people frequently prefer their news updates delivered in snack-sized bites. Others, like Ezra Klein’s yet-to-launch Vox, are betting big on readers who might want to wade deep into tricky, complicated subject matter, like the history of the crisis in Ukraine.

A new survey, however, unearthed some interesting data regarding our news consumption: Readers don’t seem to really care about what organization they’re getting their news from, or what device format they’re reading on; what matters, really, is the news itself.

The survey is part of the just-announced Media Insight Project, a joint effort between the American Press Institute (API), the Associated Press, and NORC at the University of Chicago. Its initial focus is on the “personal news cycle,” or how various content platforms and gadgets fit into the consumption habits of Americans.

“The findings suggest the conventional wisdom holding that media consumption divides largely along generational or ideological lines is overstated,” write the study’s administrators in the abstract, “and that some long-held beliefs about people relying on a few primary sources for news are now obsolete.” Worth noting: For this research, 1,492 adults were surveyed over the phone about their media diets.

© Copyright 2014. The Media Insight Project

The research indicates that nearly half of Americans with Internet access sign up for news alerts of some kind. (Not surprising.) And people with smartphones were “three times as likely to get news through social media as those without smart phones,” and “twice as likely to use search engines and aggregators for news.” (Also not very surprising.)

What is interesting, though, is that the overwhelming majority of Americans have no problem relying on multiple information channels to get their news. Although conventional wisdom might suggest otherwise, loyalty to a few primary sources just wasn’t there. “It’s not like people just watch television, or go to a newspaper, or go to a website,” Jennifer Agiesta, director of AP Polling, tells Fast Company. “The biggest lesson is that people are open to getting news in any way that happens to be convenient at that time.”

Social media, for example, isn’t “replacing” traditional news outlets. Instead, it’s adding to the existing news cycle and augmenting it in a way that wasn’t there a decade ago. According to the findings, four in 10 Americans said they got their news from social media like Twitter and Facebook. But more than 80% said they also go directly to news organization websites for updates, too. Just because they found out a celebrity died on Twitter isn’t going to dissuade them from reading an obituary later.

© Copyright 2014. The Media Insight Project

In other words, our current news landscape offers information at varying metabolisms, depending on what’s required. And readers have no problem attenuating to this: They’ll turn to local news for weather updates, Eater for restaurant recommendations, the New York Times for the debt crisis, and check Twitter for BuzzFeed posts in between. In the quote-unquote information economy, there appears to be plenty to go around. “Even with new technology, the majority of Americans said they just love following the news,” says Agiesta. She pauses, before adding with a laugh, “Even if they don’t like paying for it.”

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