(Originally posted on May 9, 2011)
The headline on the new Pew study, Navigating News Online, was “Where people go, how they get there and what lures them away,” but it would have been just as accurate and more to the point if it had been “Every trend we’ve reported in the past few years is still true.” There also is no recommendation on what any news organization should in light of these trends (it says, “All of this suggests that news organizations might need a layered and complex strategy for serving audiences and also for monetizing them,” which might be more accurately translated as, “We don’t know for sure what you should try”). A summary:
Most folks who visit news sites are infrequent visitors and don’t stay very long at all — less than five minutes a month. Yes, A MONTH. A small group — very small, in some cases — comes more often and spends more than an hour a month.
Google continues to be the top place driving traffic to news sites, but social media, and Facebook in particular, are growing fast as news referring sources. The study confirms, however, that Twitter barely registers as a referring source. (Note that is a general observation; if you are getting great results from Twitter, by all means keep using it.)
The “share” tools that appear alongside most news stories rank among the most clicked-on links on news sites.
One bit of good news: The age of news consumers online is on par with Internet users overall. In other words, not the mostly older (I won’t say “dying”) group that is the audience for so much traditional media.
5/17/11 UPDATE: Some people have pointed out problems with the Pew study, among them Steve Buttry. Steve lists five problems, but each of the five is a lengthy complaint. They fall generally under the headings of methodology and sloppy stats. Perhaps the most damning criticism for most journalists would be No. 5:
“Whatever validity this study has is heavily skewed toward national news because PEJ studied only the top 25 news sites, based on unique visitors for the first nine months of 2010. Of the 25 sites studied, at most six could be described as local news sites, the sites of the Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, New York Post, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle and Chicago Tribune. And some, if not all, of those have significant national audiences, at least for a sports franchise they follow. With that heavy a national sample, the study is nearly worthless for local news sites.”