Tipping point: Online news overtakes print

Gallup and Pew polls, both published this month, agree that fewer and fewer people are getting their news from newspapers, more and more get their news from the internet, and that “internet” is about to overtake printed “newspapers” as the preferred news source, if it hasn’t already. I’ve seen each of these polls discussed in the journoblogs, but not compared.

In case you missed either of them, here’s Pew’s key question and graph (sources add to more than 100 percent because multiple answers were accepted):

Here’s Gallup’s newspaper question and graph:

And here’s Gallup’s internet question and graph:

These polls show that we’re at a tipping point in favor of internet sourcing of news. The decline of the print numbers doesn’t look as precipitous as we pundits tend to perceive it, but that’s because it’s hiding a huge demographic skew: print readership is still pretty stable among older age groups, but tapers off to just about zero in the youngest cohorts. Pew found that among 18-29 year-olds, online news led printed newspapers 59 percent to 28 percent (and tied television, which was also at 59 percent).

Now, the point has been made, by Jeff Jarvis and others, that “internet” in these polls includes the sites of daily newspapers, and besides, that there’s a sort of apples-and-oranges problem, in that television, newspapers and the internet are not three separate “media” in the delivery systems sense. In Jeff’s words: “[T]he internet is not just a means of delivery for one-way distribution of media as a product; the internet is a means of collaboration, creation, and curation (alliteration unintentional). Paper is a medium; the internet is not.” But, whatever the internet is, that’s where the news audience is heading, in droves.

So, to me, this raises a key question: if newspapers want to continue to follow the audience to the internet, where more and more of them want to find their news (or the news finds them, in the often-quoted words of a focus group participant), how can they raise the level of their online presence from a simple delivery medium to a full-fledged “means of collaboration, creation and curation”? In other words, how do newspapers leverage the social networking power of the internet?

I’ll address that in the next post: Nuts and Bolts: How newspapers can optimize use of social media.