In a vivid demonstration of the growing power of the Internet and its effect on the media, a new study shows that about 50 million Americans go online to read the news on a typical day, primarily from the Web sites of traditional media outlets.
Much of that growth is fueled by a rise in broadband connections in homes over the past four years, according to the report, issued yesterday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. It said the Internet is the primary news source for people who adopted broadband connections at home and are heavy users of the Internet. Within this group, 71 percent go online for news on the average day, while 59 percent get news from local television, the study said.
Just over half get news from national TV and radio on the typical day and about 40 percent turn to local newspapers, the study said.
"The broadband difference is now permeating the news environment," John B. Horrigan, the principal author of the report, said in a summary. "High-powered Internet users are heavily into other media sources as well, but the pre-eminent place of online news suggests that it shapes their off-line information choices in an important way."
The report, issued by the Pew Research Center in Washington, is based on interviews in November and December of 3,011 adult Americans, 1,931 of whom were Internet users and 1,014 of whom had high-speed connections at home. It showed that the respondents tend to go to the Web sites of traditional media sources for their news. Forty-six percent of the Internet users said they go to the sites of national TV channels such as CNN or MSNBC, 39 percent go to portal Web sites such as Yahoo or Google, 32 percent access the Web sites of a local daily paper, 31 percent prefer the site of a local TV station, and 20 percent say they go to the Web site of a national daily newspaper.
Twelve percent, the report estimated, click onto the sites of international news organizations such as the British Broadcasting Corp. or al-Jazeera.
"Major news events create spikes in online news consumption," the study said, adding that "some portion of the unexplained growth" in online news over the past few years might be attributable to events such as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
The Pew study's focus on the newsgathering behavior of broadband users "might offer a glimpse of future behavior in the general population," the report said.
The impact of online news is greatest for American adults younger than the age of 36 with a high-speed Internet connection at home, the study went on.
"Historically, Americans under the age of 36 are generally less likely to follow current events than older Americans, but the presence of an `always on' broadband connection pulls some of them to the news," Horrigan said.
"For older broadband users, online news fills in `news gaps' among already established news consumption habits," he added.
The Pew study also looked at Americans' computer habits at work, where broadband connections are markedly more common than in many homes that have less speedy dial-up links.
"It is no secret that online connections in the workplace are used not solely for business purposes," the report said. For many people, it's a time to shop, it said. For others, it's "checking out what's going on in the world."