While it’s no secret that the Internet is rapidly becoming a major new distribution outlet for news, a Harvard study documents the rapid shift in the habits of the news audience. At greatest risk are local newspapers, with small and mid-size television stations not faring much better.
The new research, released last week by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, focused on 160 Web sites over a one-year period.
The Web sites of national television networks, such as CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC and Fox, experienced increased traffic during the past year — more than a 30 percent increase on average. However, the Web sites of local commercial television and radio stations, while also making some gains, grew at a slower pace than the brand name media sites.
The research found that while the Web sites of nationally known newspapers like the “New York Times,” “Washington Post” and “USA Today” experienced 10 percent gains, most newspaper Web outlets lost audience share.
The largest gains in audience, however, occurred among nontraditional news providers. The sites of search engines, service providers, aggregators and bloggers grew faster on average than the sites of traditional news providers, whether print, broadcast, or cable.
The report said the sites of Google, Yahoo, AOL and MSN, along with newsvine.com, topix.net, digg.com and reddit.com, saw large increases in traffic during the past year.
In giving a historical perspective to the current audience shift, the study noted that in 1963, when the television networks significantly expanded their nightly newscasts and reporting resources, it resulted in the eventual death of most of the nation’s 1400 afternoon newspapers. At peak, 80 percent of dinner-hour viewers watched TV news.
Network news, however, began losing that massive audience with the rise of cable in the 1980s. Now, the report said, cable is losing its news audience. In 2006, cable’s daytime ratings dropped by 11 percent while its prime-time news audience fell by 12 percent.
“The process that the economist Joseph Schumpeter labeled ‘creative destruction’ is once again reshaping the news system,” the report said. “This time, the technological disruption is Internet- based news. As online use has increased, the audiences of older media have declined. In the past year alone, newspaper circulation has fallen by three percent, broadcast news has lost a million viewers, and local TV news ratings have dropped by more than five percent.”
To download the full report, visit www.shorensteincenter.org.