50 million Americans are turning primarily to the Internet for their news. It is a high-water mark that experts say ought to be a clarion call to newspapers, television networks, and other, more traditional news sources
The growing number of Americans who are turning to the Internet for their news corresponds to the growing number of families with broadband access in their homes. Four years ago, just 10 percent of American adults had personal access to high-speed Internet connections; today, that number is 37 percent.
According to John Horrigan, a researcher at the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the reason broadband users turn to the Internet more frequently than dial-up users is that broadband is faster. "Our research has shown consistently that people with high-speed Internet do more things on-line on a typical day than people without the always-on high-speed connection," he says. "We wanted to see how that traditional finding in the (Pew Internet) Project would look when focusing specifically on news consumption."
What the Pew Internet Project found is that among so-called "high-powered" broadband users - that is, people who do things online at least four times a day - the Internet was the greatest single news source. 71 percent of them said they got their news online. Horrigon says information about what's happening in the world has become one more thing these people turn to the Internet for.
"As people have gained experience on the Internet, as people have folded different facets of their lives (into the Internet), whether it's getting healthcare information online, or communicating with family and friends online - as they become more generally dependent on the Internet, they move more things online, including getting the news online."
Horrigan says traditional news sources need to pay attention to this trend, since it is primarily people in their 20s and 30s who are turning to the Internet for news. Studies show that as they get older, Americans become more interested in current events. But John Horrigan says unlike their parents, people born in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s may not be buying more newspapers as they become more interested in the news.
"They won't have formed news-gathering habits in their 20s and 30s by subscribing to the newspaper or turning on the television," he says. "Their news consumption habits will have been formed by turning to the Internet, so as these people age, they will probably be less likely to do things like subscribing to the local paper or watching the national TV news."
A number of newspapers have already teamed up with various Internet providers to get their headlines posted on the providers' homepages. Those postings include links to the papers' websites. John Horrigan says this partnership is fueling the trend toward online newsgathering, at the same time that it is keeping newspapers relevant.