March 2, 2010 Last Updated 4:55 pm

Pew study show “news” just part of the media landscape; television still beats out Internet as #1 source

The recent media study released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project is getting much attention for the fact that it appears that more and more Americans are getting their news online. But the study really points out an obvious fact: news is a media commodity the same way sit coms and reality shows are: consumption mirrors age and demographics, as well as our “viewing” habits, in general.

The Pew study shows that most Americans still get their news via local and national television, and that like television, certain demographics are heavy users: older Americans, women and African Americans. Also, the older we get, the more interested we are in “news”. Even online, young people are less likely to be interested in “news” versus those middle aged.

If Pew were to repeat this study each year I believe the value of the study would grow tremendously. For instance, America appears to be moving towards a partisan styled media, much more like the European model. Is this true? What would the study have said five years ago, or in five years?

But here is what the study says to me: news is “content” — it is “entertainment”. That is, if most people get their news from television, and then from radio and the Internet, with newspapers way down the list, then why is this? Isn’t it because news follows the same pattern as other entertainment vehicles. Most white elderly Americans get their news on TV because that is what they are doing during the day. (The Pew study in no covers this area, so consider it speculation.) If the question was asked “where do you get your entertainment, with the same choices listed, the results would not be so different: TV, radio, Internet, in that order — not so far off from these results.

I would argue that news is part of the package. You may consider news to be the main function of a newspaper, but is it really? It is content — entertainment, if you like — and as content it has to appeal to consumers on many levels. Even in this study, 44 percent of respondents admitted that news “provides me with entertainment, relaxing diversion”. Seventy-two percent said they enjoy talking with friends and family about news — another form of entertainment.

The lesson, if one can be discerned from a one-time study, may be that “news” sites need to diversify their content offerings if they are going to eventually compete with broadcast media. One can see that the Internet is quickly passing print in importance (though the Pew study does not explore the change — it is simply a snap shot of what “is”, not a comparative look).

Will online news become America’s number one source of news? Hard to tell based on this study. Just looking at the numbers, I would bet on television remaining the prime source of news. But what if television and the Internet merge, as the appear to be doing? I can watch videos on my computer and phone, I can even use something like Slingbox to stream TV to my non-TV devices. It is possible that we are moving in the direction of a one-device media world, where content is differentiated not by the device, but by the program.

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