Media’s Darwinian choice: Adapt or die

We’ve all known that the way Americans gather their news has been changing over the years.  Newspapers today provide the most obvious sign of that change as they struggle with the dropping circulation of their traditional paper based product.  And we’re aware of the well documented shift from network news to cable news because of its 24 hours availability.

Appointment TV, at least in the news industry, is all but dead.  But probably the biggest change of all is how much news is now being gathered under the broad description of “on-line”.   More and more Americans are now gathering their news and keeping up with it through the internet on their computers and their mobile devices.

The Pew Research Center for the People and Press has released a survey in which they looked at the change in the media mix Americans choose for their news gathering and how dramatically it has  shifted over the past decade.  In 1991 TV dominated with newspapers (56%) and radio (54%) both owning a majority share of how news was gathered by people.  10 years later that mix has changed dramatically along with the increased access to the internet.  TV still claims 58% of Americans who use it as one of their primary news gathering tools.

However, both the radio and newspaper percentages have dropped precipitously.   Radio can only boast a 34% share in 2010 and newspapers are down to 31%.

Pew began tracking “on-line” news gathering in 2004 as the internet began to explode.  At that time they found 24% were gathering their news on-line.  That took a slight dip but then took off about 2006 to where it now claims 34% prefer to gather their news on-line.  And the trend curve is steep and climbing.  Pew also puts the number at 44% of those who receive “any web based or mobile news” of some sort.

In other words, the on-line choice is quickly gathering speed and preference among Americans as the way to get their news.

However, Americans use a mix of sources and few are exclusive.  In fact, while on-line news gathering is growing very quickly, only 9% of those surveyed used on-line sources exclusively to gather the information they want or require.

Interestingly those driving this switch to on-line newsgathering aren’t who you might suspect.  The young, who keep up with the emerging technology and more easily integrate it into their lives don’t necessarily use it for newsgathering.  That would be those in their 30’s, the only age-group in which a majority (57%) reported they gather most of their news on-line.  As one might imagine, older groups tended to report reliance on more traditional media outlets for their news gathering.

Howver, the fact that thirty-somethings prefer on-line news gathering over traditional means certainly should be sounding warning bells in the halls of the older media outlets.  Those in their 30s today came of age just as the digital on-line revolution was beginning to gather steam and they’ve adapted their habits quite comfortably to that change.  They indicate that those coming behind them will most likely make the same sorts of decisions when it comes to their news gathering options as they mature.  And that will mean further erosions in the traditional means of presenting news.

One of the more interesting parts of the report was its inclusion of political blogs as a source of both information and opinion.  Pew reports that most read blogs for the opinions expressed by the bloggers.  29% of “regular audiences” say they read blogs mostly for their opinion.  That is only eclipsed by well know commentators within the cable news and talk radio genres such as Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck,  Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews.  However, it is a higher percentage than those who read the Wall Street Journal (11%) , New York Times (11%) and USA Today (9%) for opinion.

There is a lot for the media world to digest in the survey, but it certainly does indicate that the shift we’re seeing now to on-line news gathering isn’t a phase or a fad, but a solid movement away from the traditional means of presenting the news.  As technology continues to make it easier and more convenient to do so, I expect that trend to actually gather speed.  Those in the traditional media today are faced with a Darwinian choice – adapt or die.

Source of graphic:

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