It wasn't long ago when commentators all over the Internet were blogging furiously about how the "citizen journalist" would spell certain doom for traditional news media. A new study, however, reveals that not only is traditional journalism far from extinct, but it's entered into a fairly comfortable relationship with the services that were supposed to make it obsolete.
The study -- conducted by Pew Research as part of the State of the News Media 2014 series -- collated a new telephone survey with mountains of public data, and the takeaways are interesting to say the least. Here's a look at four key findings:
1. Facebook is not the only game in town
It's a fact that Zuckerberg's billion-dollar baby is the most heavily trafficked among the sites surveyed -- nearly two-thirds of all U.S. adults use Facebook -- but large numbers of people are getting their news from other social sources. Here's a breakdown of users who rely on social media for their news, as a percentage of each site's total user base:
- YouTube: 20 percent
- Tumblr: 29 percent
- Google Plus: 30 percent
- Facebook: 47 percent
- Twitter: 52 percent
- reddit: 62 percent
It's also the case that news audiences tend to overlap from site to site, with about a tenth of all social media news consumers reaching out to three or more sites to stay up on current events.
2. Traditional news media is alive and well (for now)
As eminently clickable as it may be for an online publication to report the death of print, radio, broadcast TV and other "old media," the data shows otherwise. Check out the percentage of social media news consumers who also get news reports regularly from old media sources:
- Print newspaper: 30 percent
- Cable TV: 34 percent
- Radio: 39 percent
- Local TV: 37 percent
- Print newspaper: 21 percent
- Cable TV: 23 percent
- Radio: 25 percent
- Local TV: 42 percent
- Print newspaper: 23 percent
- Cable TV: 32 percent
- Radio: 28 percent
- Local TV: 43 percent
Users who get their news primarily from Twitter stood out from the rest in this category, trailing all other sites in traditional news media cross-traffic and leading all sites in the use of mobile devices to read news. Speaking of Twitter, though…
3. Twitter statistics tend to distort public opinion
If someone describes themselves as a "social networking ninja" or "new media guru," chances are they'll proselytize the belief that Twitter functions as some tightly calibrated barometer of public opinion. According to Pew, however, who balanced Twitter conversation data against opinion surveys, that is far less often the case than the ninjas and gurus would have you believe.
One example released in the 2014 report relates discussions of gun control on Twitter with a public survey about the same issue, both sampled in the days following a mass shooting incident in 2012. Twitter conversations indicated public opinion stood nearly two-thirds in favor of stricter U.S. regulations on firearms, while polling data showed the public was more evenly split on the issue.
What's more, data gleaned from Twitter conversations can make the public seem dramatically wishy-washy on controversial issues. During one month in spring 2013, the Twitter-verse flipped from a 23-point margin opposing same-sex marriage to a 17-point margin in favor.
4. Different social media sites present very different demographics
The Pew study also collected metrics on the gender, age and education level of news consumers on social sites, and the differences were pretty striking. Here are some standout stats from each of the networks surveyed:
- Facebook is home to a 58 percent female user base and boasts the most even distribution of educational attainment among the five sites in the report
- Twitter is the place to go to court the youth vote, with 45 percent of its users aged between 18 and 29 and just 2 percent over 65.
- Google Plus seems to be popular with the empty nest and retirement set, with 38 percent of users over 50.
- LinkedIn users are two-thirds male and far and away the most educated, with a staggering 64 percent of users who have attained a bachelor's degree or higher
- YouTube news consumers were least likely to have gone to college, with 48 percent of users reporting a high school education or less.
One final #takeaway
While social media may not destroy traditional news reporting anytime soon, a second look at some key numbers suggests that its contributions to the shifting journalism landscape are probably far from over. Case in point: Twitter users showed the least amount of engagement with old media news sources and the highest percentage of mobile device news consumption, and their demographic skews much younger than those of other sites.
As Twitter users age, will they grow to follow the same news consumption habits that their 30-, 40- and 50-something counterparts exhibit today, or will they carry their own habits forward and bring further change to the ways we consume news? Conventional wisdom suggests the latter -- new generations do tend to blaze their own trail. Running these numbers again in 10 years might produce some very different results.
"State of the News Media 2014," Pew Research Journalism Project, http://www.journalism.org/packages/state-of-the-news-media-2014/
"8 Key Takeaways About Social Media and News," Pew Research Journalism Project, http://www.journalism.org/2014/03/26/8-key-takeaways-about-social-media-and-news/
"Twitter News Consumers: Young, Mobile and Educated," Pew Research Journalism Project, http://www.journalism.org/2013/11/04/twitter-news-consumers-young-mobile-and-educated/
"News Use Across Social Media Platforms," Pew Research Journalism Project, http://www.journalism.org/2013/11/14/news-use-across-social-media-platforms/