Technology and the News

Port charotte SunReuters Institute just published their Digital News Report 2015. This report looks at a number of different countries to understand how people access news and how much they trust the news that they access.

One thing that is obvious in reading this report is that, while countries vary, overall there has been a major transition in the ways people access news from traditional TV and print news to online news.

Consider the percentage of people who still primarily get news from television. This is highest in France (58%) and Germany (53%), but in the US only 40% of people now list TV as their primary source of news. And in very online Finland this has dropped to 30%.

Newspapers have taken a beating over the last few decades and are nearly irrelevant as a source of news. Japan has the highest percentage of people who still rely on newspapers at 14%, but most countries are much closer to the 5% figure in the US.

The big shift worldwide has been to get news online, either from various online news sources or from social media sites. In the US 43% of people now get news online while another 11% get news primarily from social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. Germany (23% and 5%) and France (29% and 5%) are the two countries with the lowest percentage of those using online news, but those two countries have also been the slowest in accepting smartphones.

There is a clear difference by age in where people get news. For example, across all countries 60% of those from 18–24 get news online but only 22% of those over 55. And only 27% of those 18-24 get news from TV while with those over 55 it’s 54%. It’s clear in watching these trends over the last few years that within a few decades TV news is going to be headed towards the same irrelevance as newspapers.

A lot of these trends are due to the amount of trust that people place on news sources. People in Finland (68%), Brazil (62%), and Germany (60%) generally trust their sources of news while in Italy (35%), Spain (34%), and the US (32%) people generally don’t trust the most common sources of news.

The newest and fastest growing source of news is social media. An astounding 41% of the people in the US have used Facebook for news within the last week of being surveyed. This was followed by YouTube (18%), Twitter (11%), and WhatsApp (9%).

I know my own news viewing habits have changed over the years. I was traditionally a voracious newspaper reader and I often subscribed to three or more papers. No matter where I lived I tried to read the Washington Post and New York Times, even if it was only the Sunday edition. I rarely watched TV news and I listened to radio news when driving.

But my news habits today are very different. I still never watch TV news. When I drive I listen almost exclusively to talk radio, which gives me some deeper analysis and commentary on the news. I get most of my worldwide news on my smartphone from various news apps like Flipboard and Pulse. I skim these often and save the most interesting articles to Pocket to read later. I get industry news from Flipboard and Twitter as well as subscribing to numerous industry newsfeeds from organizations that gather tech and telecom articles. I still subscribe to my local small town newspaper and use it to keep up with local news and local sports. And nothing online has strong loyalty and I switch online news sources as I find ones I like better. While I don’t think of Facebook as a source of news, I do use that as the one place where I sometimes comment on the news.

The beauty today is that everybody can tailor a news experience to fit their interest. However, the downside to the wide variety of choices is that in picking news sources people are tending more and more towards reading only news sources that reinforce their world view. There are a lot of social scientists that say that the trend of getting news online has been a major contributing factor towards the political polarization we have in the country. That may be true and I put effort looking at multiple sources of news in an effort to avoid that.

But I know I never want to go back to the old ways. I feel that online news has given me the ability to know a lot more about what is going on in the world while also letting me dig really deeply into topics that most interest me. I remember the old days when you might see an article about something interesting that was happening in another country and then you had no way to easily find out more about it.

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