How Long Before “New” Media Becomes “Old”?
This morning began with an experiment.
Rather than pick up my daily newspaper, flip on the radio or even look at the television, I decided to get all my news solely from my iPad.
It was different…and honestly, not very satisfying.
For example, browsing through Google News there were at least a dozen different reports on Microsoft’s impending purchase of Skype – a story that broke too late for newspapers but surely would have been on the radio – but not a single preview of today’s Senate hearing on mobile phone privacy. I skimmed through Twitter and found it long on opinion and short on news. It was still too early for most of my Facebook friends to have shared any current stories that interested them (but did catch some funny dog videos) so I scanned the websites of several news sources I trust.
All the reports in print were no doubt there online – assuming I had the patience to thumb through them all. But after five or six headline links, my eyes started to glaze. Headlines began to blur into each other and within 10 minutes or so I simply gave up, left to hunt out that morning’s paper edition of the Washington Post. Newsprint in hand, in just a few minutes I learned about the current U.S. Congressional debt ceiling debate, the outing of a CIA station chief in Pakistan (and who might be responsible), a closed-circuit TV news program in local prisons, and a few other items I never would have found on the Internet.
Old-fashioned? Perhaps. But it turns out I’m not alone.
“What are we not learning about? What is happening that gets lost?” asks Amy Mitchell, deputy director of the Pew Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “Every time I flip through a print newspaper, instead of scrolling to ‘uh, this story’s on my phone’ and picking which ones I’m going to read, when I do the print version I find stories that I dive into that I hadn’t noticed on my phone or my tablet.”
Mitchell is the co-author of a new Pew study exploring how the Web and mobile devices have changed American’s news appetites – what they read, how they find it, and “what lures them away,” as the report concludes. Not surprisingly, there’s no one single type of news diet:
“Many of us now are what we would call news grazers, where we come back to news over the course of the day several times. First thing in the morning we’ll get a little bit of news, we’ll get a little more news once we get into the office. Then we’ll get a little news before lunchtime; we’ll check in again when we go to see what our phone alerts have been. So there’s a constant plugging in and out of the news cycle over the course of a day. You compare that to saying ‘my news time is at 7 in the morning with a cup of coffee’, to tune in to the network evening news at 6 o’clock each evening – that’s completely changed. So people are getting little pieces of news over the course of a day. And that leads to another change which is this kind of incremental reporting of news. That is, as news became a 24-hour process, the way that much of the reporting has occurred is incremental – piece by piece by piece. And in many cases, it’s up to the consumer to add up those pieces together and figure out the whole of the story.”
Keeping with the consumer analogy, Mitchell says some people nibble while others feast. Some prefer fast food; others like home-cooked. But increasingly everyone, the report concludes, shares what’s on their menu. “Consumers (are) saying, ‘Oh wow, I found this story that’s interesting, I’m going to post it on my Facebook page, I’m going to email it around to my friends, I’m going to put it on whatever social network it is that I take part in,’” says Mitchell. “So (they’re) really becoming a process of the flow and cycle of a news story from start to finish.”
Listen to our complete interview with Amy Mitchell here:
There are some surprises. For example, some social networks aren’t nearly as popular as a means for sharing news as might be expected. And even in the era of Web 2.0, Mitchell says some old-fashioned websites still dominate:
“Clearly, Google is still the single-most prominent driver of traffic to news sites, averaging about 30% of traffic to these sites. Facebook averages more around 3%. And in this report, Facebook even stands out more than a direct driver than the numbers that came out on Twitter. Information, and potentially news stories, are getting passed along through other means.
“Clearly what this adds up to is that sharing of news is becoming a very important element of the news eco-system today, of the way information travels and a news story travels, and that there’s a back-and-forth relationship of going from the news outlet to the consumer, from the consumer back to the news outlet, to other consumers, that can then get back to the news outlet, going back-and-forth.”
But pushing the consumer analogy one final step, if news consumers are eating shorter meals, are they still getting the same amount of nutrition? Put another way, is a 3500 word enterprise feature probing the causes of the global financial slump on a par with the latest interchangeable celebrity scandal?
“News, now, is consumed through the same means as many other kinds of information,” notes Pew’s Amy Mitchell. “It becomes news-information. At the same time, what we see in some of the survey work that we’ve done, consumers are pretty aware of the different kinds of information, and why they turn to one outlet vs. another – why it is they turn to a cable talk show and then why it is that they turn to a morning newspaper.”
All of this may be interesting; some of the research is clearly new. But ultimately, it’s hardly news at all – either for those who produce it or those who consume it. Network viewership, especially for news, continues to plummet while dozens of newspapers have either moved entirely online or given up altogether. The migration of eyeballs from newsprint and TV to the Internet is as old as…well, almost as old as the Internet itself.
“We’ve been noting these changes over the last decade,” admits Mitchell. When asked what the formula is for reporters who want both quality journalism and huge numbers of clicks is, Mitchell just laughs. “Well I think that’s something that every news organizations is trying to figure out.”