News is a constant

The latest Pew study on news usage is out (David Newberger does a great job picking the good bits) but this is what struck me:

The consumption use of news across media is fairly constant. Use of newspapers is shrinking. Says Pews: “…even the highest estimate of daily newspaper readership — 43% for both print and online readers –­ is still well below the number reading a print newspaper on a typical day 10 years ago (50%).” That leads some to believe that interest in news is thus decreasing, but Pew says that’s not the case:

The rise of the internet has also not increased the overall news consumption of the American public. The percentage of Americans who skip the news entirely on a typical day has not declined since the 1990s. Nor are Americans spending any more time with the news than they did a decade ago when their news choices were much more limited. In 1996, people on average spent slightly more than an hour (66 minutes) getting the news from TV, radio or newspapers. Currently, they spend virtually the same amount of time (67 minutes) getting the news from all major news sources, the internet included.

So news is that much of a chunk of life. People want that much news and they then allocate how to get their news across more choices and more means to get the news that is relevant to them. Some might say this is evidence of attention scarcity but I think it’s more like interest scarcity: News is only so worthwhile. An hour a day for news is a quite sane proportion — large, I think — but it is limited.

: Oh, and tell this to Jack Shafer:

But one constant remains: Local and community news continues to be the biggest draw for newspapers. And as was the case during the mid-1980s, roughly nine-in-ten of those who at least sometimes read a newspaper say they spend a significant amount of time getting the news about their city, town or region.

: More from Pew:

People who say they logged on for news yesterday spent 32 minutes, on average, getting the news online. That is significantly less than the average number of minutes that newspaper readers, radio news listeners, and TV news viewers spend with those sources. And while nearly half of all Americans (48%) spend at least 30 minutes getting news on television, just 9% spend that long getting news online.

I think that’s a bit of a red herring. The use of each medium is different: one passive and time-based, another directed and involved. Even so, it’s clear that the internet is not taking over news. It is remixing news time. Says Pew:

The web serves mostly as a supplement to other sources rather than a primary source of news. Those who use the web for news still spend more time getting news from other sources than they do getting news online. In addition, web news consumers emphasize speed and convenience over detail. Of the 23% who got news on the internet yesterday, only a minority visited newspaper websites. Instead, websites that include quick updates of major headlines, such as MSNBC, Yahoo, and CNN, dominate the web-news landscape.

And then they add this:

To some degree, news consumers are drawn to the internet for the very reason that it does

not take much time to get news online. Most users say what distinguishes web news is its format and accessibility ­ the ease of navigation, speed with which information can be gathered, and convenience “at my fingertips.”

I wonder whether there is a way to get another measure of news: how many stories, how many topics, hoe much information, rather than just how much time. In other words: If you spend 30 minutes watching TV news, you get a handful of stories. If you spend 30 minutes online, you could get dozens of stories or you could spend a long time on one. Time is not the best measure. I want to know about the number of news nuggets mined.

Much more to dig into in the Pew survey….

: LATER: Nicholas Carr writes about the survey, too. He tries, as usual, to turn this into a confrontation, though I don’t think it is; it’s all a matter of degree and time but the trends are the trends.

(By the way, Carr never passes up an opportunity to snipe at me as his resident philistine, which is fine, and I’ve parried back. But I’ll also note that when we met at an Annenberg event, he didn’t have the guts to say any of that, face-to-face. I sought him and and joked that we were matter meeting antimatter. He did not discuss his apparent efforts to feud. But then he got back online and immediately brought out the rifle again. It’s odd to define oneself by what one is not but if you do that, I suppose you need to find or manufacture an opposite number. This is all beside the point. And that’s my point.)