The Changing Nature of News Consumption

It finally happened. The Internet has officially overtaken newspapers as a primary news source for Americans, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Analysts have been predicting the death of the newspaper for years. Are these findings the final nail in coffin? It’s easy to assume, especially with the recent nomination of the Internet for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the Internet is still not the number one news source, trailing behind local and national television news.

Six in ten (59 percent) Americans receive news from online and offline sources. Unlike more traditional news sources, the Internet has numerous fractions within it. These platforms range from traditional newspaper Web sites to informal gossip blogs to posts on social networks.

Also, receiving news online does not necessarily mean using a computer. With more than one third (33 percent) of cell phone users accessing news on their mobile devices, information is becoming increasingly portable.

Personalization is one of the growing trends in online communications. News consumption is no exception. More than one-fourth (28 percent) of Internet users customize their home page to include news on topics of particular interest to them.

Growing fragmentation

There is another trend in news consumption, however, that is counteracting the growing fragmentation. With the shift to Web 2.0, Internet communications allows for two-way communication. This has made news consumers participatory. According to the study, 37 percent of Internet users have contributed to the creation of news, commented about it, or disseminated it via postings on social media sites such as facebook or Twitter. Social networks provide the opportunity for people to share and receive information that they may not receive from other sources.

The ways in which news consumers are receiving news are constantly evolving. At one time, having a story on the front page of The Oregonian meant everyone would read it, or at least hear about it from someone who did. Those days are far behind us. However, with the majority of people receiving news from a variety of sources, it is more important than ever to really understand who your audience is and how its members receive information.

These trends call for a change in the way organizations conduct public relations programs. Developing a communications strategic and tactical plan to “facilitate the conversation” is essential, requiring fresh thinking on how to pitch story ideas to the media and communicate with key audiences. Two-way is the new way.

Six steps to consider

For instance, in thinking about elements of a communications plan, considered these six steps CFM recently presented to educators. See presentation.

1. Determine your goals: do you wish to expand awareness, provide information or position the organization?

2. Target and segment: What audience will help meet your goals? Remember, no one-size-fits-all solution exists.

3. Identify and assess tools: What are the tools in the external communications plan and how does social media fit? Will you be using traditional tools such as newspaper, TV, radio and events? What about more contemporary tools?

4. Develop the plan: Will it be a multi-media approach? Consider traditional and contemporary tools.

5. Keep it interesting: Think like your target audience to personalize communications. Make information and content group specific,

6. Measure results: Set realistic expectations. Use tool-specific metrics to set and measure outcomes.

Participation means more dialogue

The increasingly participatory nature of news consumption allows for more dialogue about issues, but it is essential to be monitoring that conversation and participate when necessary.

Even with all of these changes, the core principles of communications remain the same. People will continue to look for interesting information from trusted sources. Even if those sources change from the daily paper to their Facebook news feed.