Users Still Turn to Traditional Sites for News

While new media evangelists like to say social media has takeover of the news,  Pew Research Center's State of the News Media report shows that the revolution is still far from overthrowing the old regime.

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While new media evangelists like to say social media has takeover of the news,  Pew's State of the News Media report shows that the revolution is still far from overthrowing the old regime.

This year's State of the News Media report from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism hit the Web early Monday and provides new details about the rate at which Twitter and Facebook are becoming readers' primary sources of news.

The shift is happening, the data says, but the vast majority of people still "very often" use the traditional avenues like search and going directly to a news site to find their news. Only "9 percent of Americans very often follow news recommendations from Facebook or from Twitter on any of the three digital devices," Pew reports.

This is to be expected, in a sense. The practice of going straight to a news site or searching a topic you're interested in has been around about as long as the Web has, and social media is still relatively new. (Facebook just turned eight, and Twitter will be six-years-old in June.)

Pew's report gets interesting when it comes to breaking down the difference between not only the type of news folks can find on Facebook and Twitter but also the types of news readers that spend the most time on those platforms. In brief, Twitter is hip. Facebook is huge.


The data reveal three main things about Twitter users' habits: They're  more mobile, more eclectic, and more addicted to the platform. While about one in five Americans owns a smartphone, 76 percent of Twitter users own one, and 64 percent of them get their news on the smartphone. The breakdown for Facebook users is 67 and 47 percent respectively. For whatever reason, Twitter users are also "highly educated" -- over one third of the people on Twitter have a college degree or beyond -- more diverse with the types of content they find through the platform. In fact, they're more diverse period. Pew says that Twitter users are "less white than the population over all and less white than Facebook news users." You can imagine how all of these statistics add up to Twitter's being a more eclectic stream of content. It doesn't have as many users or drive as much traffic as Facebook, but somehow, Twitter seems to better engage its audience, and Twitter users are more likely to feel dependent on the platform. See this graph:


Facebook is for friends and families. That's it really. And it makes total sense, if you understand the history of the platform. Back in the day, Facebook set itself apart from other social networks like MySpace and Friendster, because it restricted what you could see based on real-life social networks like your college, your high school or your hometown. On Facebook today, the vast majority recommendations for news that people click on -- 70 percent -- comes from those networks.

And these folks simply use Facebook more, on average. Even though Twitter users tend to be more engaged, more people go to Facebook "very often' for news. However, the number of people going straight to Facebook (and Twitter) pales in comparison to those who go the traditional routes. As we mentioned above only 9 percent of people use social media "very often" for news -- 7 percent use Facebook and 3 percent use Twitter.

Inevitably, this year's report should be good news for newspapers. Readers are still flocking to news sites the way they used to, and while social media shows promise, there's still more time to tap into that. The optimism about news sites, we hate to say, falls apart when you look at the economics of the news business. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, and Facebook are absolutely dominating the display ad business. And newspapers, well, they're in last place and still losing ground. Turns out printing things on paper is still really, really hurting these companies' bottom lines.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.