towards a meaningful measurement of newspapers’ use of the internet

The Bivings Report yesterday published the results of their study into ‘The Use of the Internet by America’s Newspapers’. They looked at the websites of the top 100 American newspapers (based on print circulation) and "evaluated them based on their use of 14 different Web 2.0 features".

The results? Bivings reckons that, unlike the politicians they researched in their last study, newspapers are doing a good job of using the internet to engage with their audiences. Some of the headline results are:

  • Onlineofferings 80 of the nation’s top 100 newspapers offered reporter blogs. On 63 of these blogs, readers could comment on posts written by reporters.
  • 76 of the nation’s top 100 newspapers offer RSS feeds on their websites. All of these feeds are partial feeds, and none included ads.
  • Major Web tools, such as blogs and RSS penetrated both the most and least circulated newspapers.
  • Video was the most common form of multimedia found on the websites, and was offered by 61 of the newspapers
  • [The full report, from which the above graphic has been taken, is available from Bivings as a free .pdf]

    The amount of effort being put into "web 2.0" or whatever you want to call it by major newspapers is quite interesting when viewed alongside a recent study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press reportedly found that only 23% of those surveyed "get their news from the web" a minority of those visited the websites of newspapers – preffering, instead, sites like Yahoo, MSNBC and CNN. Additionally, the report found that whilst nearly half (48%) of Americans spend a half hour or more per day watching television news, only 9% spent that amount of time on news websites. Those reporting that they read news related blogs across all ages in the survey, 18 – 65, was a paltry 4% with that number rising to 9% for 18 – 24 year olds.

    The same study from Pew suggests that only 29% of Americans under the age of 30 read a daily newspaper and 46% of under 40’s don’t "enjoy keeping up with the news alot".

    Steve Rubel reckons all this means that blogs aren’t helping newspapers gain inroads in the youth audience. I think it probably just demonstrates that the current efforts by newspapers to engage with their audiences – through blogs, comments, linking out, etc – still have room to evolve and grow.

    And so what if the newspapers haven’t, with the Guardian being a shining example of an exception from the Uk, actually built new audiences by going online? At least, unlike other mainstream media outlets, like network television, they haven’t seen their audiences go into freefall. Keeping the longtail at bay, or figuring out ways to tap into it, has got to be half the battle as audiences fragment.

    In his critique of the Pew study, Jarvis gets into that old debate about online conumption being "directed and involved" whilst television consumption is, in his eyes, "passive and time based". I hope he’s talking just about the measurement of each of those two mediums because internet consumption can be just as passive and time based as television and vis-a-versa. Jarvis does, however, thoughtfully conclude that:

    "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."

    I’d suggest another way might be appropriate: measure the number of conversations engaged with. That is, how many times does someone who consumes news, regardless of the platform, return to either think about it (one point), tell a friend about it or link to it (two points), write or say something about it then add their own critique (three points), or actively discuss and debate it (five points). That way, what we’d be actually measuring, I think, would be closer to the impact of that news, and the depth of impact, rather than simply the rate of consumption.

    Of course, you could argue that because I’m an "online person" I was bound to come up with a measurement that would favour the internet: due to the immediacy, and opportunities for further discussion and exploration of topics increasingly being afforded (see Bivings Report above) by news websites, their impact is almost certainly higher, when using the measurement I suggest above, than other forms of media.

    I don’t expect the offline media types to agree but reckon a lot of the newspapers, at least their online teams, get it and if they don’t, they probably will see their audiences eroded by those who do.