Americans Turning to the Net for News

A new survey shows that an increasing number of Americans, particularly those who are interested in financial matters, are turning to the Internet for news and information.

One in three Americans go online at least once a week for their news, compared to 20 percent two years ago, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Fifteen percent of the survey’s respondents said they get daily news from the Internet, up six percent from 1998.

“Many more college graduates under the age of 50 go on the Internet every day than regularly watch one of the nightly network news broadcasts,” the survey said. However, the leading online news topic is the weather.

Online News Fans

The study by the Pew Center, an independent opinion research group, found that half of all active traders — people who have traded stocks in the last six months — go to the Internet first for stock quotes and updates before they turn to such traditional outlets as television, radio and newspapers.

A third of all active traders rely on Internet sites for investment advice, instead of consulting other outlets, including financial advisors.

Nearly 60 percent of active traders have customized Web pages that give them prices and other information on their portfolios. A sizable number of active traders — 15 percent, more than any other group of computer users — use wireless devices for Internet access.

Online Credibility

The study also found that many online news sites, especially those tied to traditional, well-known operations, enjoy a high degree of credibility. Oddly, the credibility ratings for the online sites of the major news organizations were higher than for the organizations themselves.

“Despite the controversy over news-gathering techniques employed by some Internet sites, those who go online generally give Internet news operations high marks for believability,” the center said.

Among the lowest in reader credibility were two online magazines, Salon and Slate, although the sample size for those publications was comparatively small.

Consolidation on the Horizon?

The survey comes hard on the heels of last week’s glum news for several news sites: the closing of crime news site and layoffs at Salon and dismissed 140 employees, but has allowed a few unpaid volunteers to keep the site going while new funding is sought.

Most Web news sites rely almost exclusively on advertising revenue. Out of a total of $4.6 billion (US$) spent by advertisers on the Web in 1999, eight percent went to news sites, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau.

90s Trend Continues

The survey also found that fewer people care about news at all — the continuation of a trend in the 90s. “Fewer people say they enjoy following the news, and fully half pay attention to national news only when something important is happening,” the study concluded.

Traditional broadcast news outlets, both local and national, are hurt more by this trend than the Internet. Most younger Americans enjoy the expanding array of news choices, especially on the Web. “Older Americans, who have a greater affinity for the news, often feel overwhelmed by the increasingly crowded media landscape,” the study said.

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