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How the “New Citizen” Consumes News

We introduce our final guest blogger of our monthly series, in celebration of our 25th anniversary this year, Amy Mitchell, Deputy Director, The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Amy S. Mitchell is Deputy Director for the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. She is involved in all aspects of the PEJ, with a primary focus on designing, managing new projects and in writing the Project’s in-depth research reports. This includes the Annual Report on the State of the News Mediamore specific studies such as the new ecosystem of news, the development of the New Media Index and earlier the News Coverage Index. Ms. Mitchell, who has been with the Project since its inception in 1997, speaks frequently to groups ranging from journalists of all types to press relation professionals to heads of various organizations.

As we close out 2010 and hunker down to prepare for 2011, I offer a few thoughts on the news consumer of today and what that means for you as information providers. These are based on research done here at the Pew Research Center’s PEJ and our sister organization, the Pew Research Center’s People and the Press.

First, people today are consuming more news than a decade ago.  A Pew Research Survey conducted in June, 2010 found that people spend on average 70 min’s with news each day. This is one of the highest totals since the mid 1990’s – and it does not include time spent with news on mobile devices like cell phones or tablets.

As was the case in 2000, people today spend 57 minutes a day getting news from TV, radio or newspaper. They then spend another 13 getting news via the Web.

Chart

As Tom Rosenstiel points out in a commentary about the survey, this reinforces something our research from earlier in the year revealed – the notion that news consumers today are what we refer to as News Grazers — cutting across different platforms and outlets over the course of the day.  Fully 92% use multiple platforms daily (platforms, not just outlets). Close to half use four to six platforms daily.  And they are turning to multiple outlets in doing so.

So their methods and means of accessing news are expanding, not narrowing.

But how conscience are people of these choices, of why they turn to different platforms and outlets? Do they recognize why they turn to Keith Olberman at one point in time and the local television broadcast or newspaper website at another?

To try to get at this, we worked with the survey group to ask a new series of questions on the June survey regarding why people turn to certain news programs or outlets. What we see is educated selection.

Consumers understand differences among the various platforms and outlets within those platforms.

chart2

People go to CNN for the latest news and headlines, the Wall Street Journal mostly for in-depth reporting, NPR for a wide mix and the Daily Show for Entertainment. This may sound elementary, but it is a powerful finding.

What does this mean for communication managers and press relations people?

Content produced should not be platform agnostic but platform specific.  News Organ’s are beginning to understand this –using different voices, different styles and methods for telling the story. This applies to organizational communicators as well — being prepared to adapt your information, your news, to multiple platforms. A traditional print account might include a more in-depth explanation of the information while a PC-based version may have links to raw data or background information and a mobile version will be shorter with fewer graphical elements. Really, how many of you put together multiple releases for any one news item?

Just as you have multiple platforms today, information providers also have multiple audiences – the loyal followers that join your listerve or your e-letters, those that check in now and then and those that find your information or organization while searching the Web.  It is important to understand the value of what audiences can add. One development in the news media this year was a realization of the potential value embedded in those dreaded “comments sections” on the Web sites.  More news organizations are now devoting resources to digging into those comment to find the ones the value – and then using them for sources, story ideas and added insight about areas of coverage.

Finally, the social component in the flow of information today – the sharing, passing along and adding to reports – leads to another critical concept for all information providers: Information providers have much less control over what happens to information once it is released. This makes it all the more important for that information to be correct, verified and complete the first time it goes out.

In sum, understanding information in the 21st Century means understanding, the new citizen, the function news plays in our lives and the multiple types of audience & content. We have a first level of understanding now. These are all areas that we at PEJ will continue to explore in 2011 and certainly beyond.

Happy holidays and wishing you all a wonderful 2011.

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