In a year when newspaper cutbacks have made their own headlines, strong evidence of the changing nature of media use in America may be found in a single statistic: Internet users report a large increase in time spent reading online newspapers, according to the eighth annual "Surveying the Digital Future" project conducted by USC Annenberg's Center for the Digital Future.
In questions about reading online and print newspapers — key elements of the eighth annual comprehensive study of the impact of online technology on America — the Digital Future Project found that Internet users read online newspapers for 53 minutes per week, the highest level thus far in the Digital Future studies.
In contrast, Internet users in 2007 reported 41 minutes per week reading online newspapers.
The project also found that 22 percent of users said they stopped their subscription to a printed newspaper or magazine because they could access the same content while online.
“The most significant trend about how Americans are changing their news reading habits may be found in comparing the use of online media by light users vs. heavy users,” Center for the Digital Future director and communication professor Jeffrey I. Cole (pictured) said. “Heavy Internet users spent 65 more minutes per week reading online newspapers than do light users. This raises the question: how will the media habits of the current generation of light users change as online content continues to expand? What ramifications will these changes have for the newspapers of America?
Opportunities for Newspapers
In spite of grim prospects, significant bright spots remain for newspapers, Cole said, including “the greatest opportunities in their existence.”
“For the first time in 60 years, newspapers are back in the breaking news business,” Cole said, “except now their delivery method is electronic and not paper. Since the beginning of radio, newspapers have not been able to compete with broadcasting for delivery of immediate news. But in a digital world, newspapers can compete at least as effectively for breaking news delivery with broadcast media. On the Web, newspapers are live, and they can supplement their coverage with audio, video, and the invaluable resources of their vast archives. And, they already have talented teams of reporters and editors who can deliver the news.
“The key to newspapers’ success,” he said, “will be making bold moves entirely into the digital realm, and building business models that allow them to thrive online.”
In addition, print newspapers still have strong brand identities and reader loyalty.
In fact, while the Digital Future Project found increased reading of media content online, the study also found that a large percentage of Internet users remain loyal to print versions of newspapers. When asked if they would miss the print edition of their newspaper if it were no longer available, 61 percent of those who read newspapers offline agreed — up from 56 percent in 2007.
The Center for the Digital Future: nine years of exploring the digital realm
The Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism created and organizes the World Internet Project, which includes the Digital Future Project and similar studies in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania. Since 2000, the Digital Future Project has examined the influence of the Internet and online technology on Americans.