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For the first time, more people got news from the Web than newspapers in 2010, Pew report says

March 14, 2011 | 11:07 am

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More people said they got their news from the Web than a physical newspaper last year -- the first time in history this has happened, according to a study from the Pew Research Center released Monday.

In a statement announcing the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism's State of the News Media annual report, the Pew Center said that the only platform that beat out the Web in terms of audience was TV.

The internet now trails only television among American adults as a destination for news, and the trend line shows the gap closing.

Financially the tipping point also has come. When the final tally is in, online ad revenue in 2010 is projected to surpass print newspaper ad revenue for the first time. The problem for news is that by far the largest share of that online ad revenue goes to non-news sources, particularly to aggregators."

The reason newspapers missed out on making as much money on their own content as aggregators did last year has to do with a lack of embracing new media that goes back years, the Pew Center said.

In the past, much of the experimentation in new journalism occurred locally, often financed by charitable grants, usually at small scale. Larger national online-only news organizations focused more on aggregation than original reporting.

In 2010, however, some of the biggest new media institutions began to develop original newsgathering in a significant way. Yahoo! added several dozen reporters across news, sports and finance. AOL had 900 journalists, 500 of them at its local Patch news operation. By the end of 2011, Bloomberg expects to have 150 journalists and analysts for its new Washington operation, Bloomberg Government. News Corp. has hired from 100 to 150, depending on the press reports, for its new tablet newspaper, The Daily, though not all may be journalists.

Together these hires come close to matching the jobs that we estimate were lost in newspapers in 2010, the first time we have seen this kind of substitution.

The Pew Center also said its study found that new community media sites, such as AOL's Patch.com, are putting as much effort toward building new revenue streams as creating actual content and many other news agencies are doing more to curate user content.

Traditional newsrooms, which were reluctant to take new media risks in the past, have had to change their ways as well, the Pew Center said.

Traditional newsrooms, meanwhile, are different places than they were before the recession. They are smaller, their aspirations have narrowed and their journalists are stretched thinner. But their leaders also say they are more adaptive, younger and more engaged in multimedia presentation, aggregation, blogging and user content. In some ways, new media and old, slowly and sometimes grudgingly, are coming to resemble each other.

The result is a news ecology full of experimentation and excitement, but also one that is uneven, has uncertain financial underpinning and some clear holes in coverage. Even in Seattle, one of the most vibrant places for new media, "some vitally important stories are less likely to be covered," said Diane Douglas, who runs a local civic group and considers the decentralization of media voices a healthy change. "It's very frightening to think of those gaps and all the more insidious because you don't know what you don't know." Some also worry that with lower pay, more demands for speed, less training, and more volunteer work, there is a general devaluing and even what scholar Robert Picard has called a "de-skilling" of the profession.

Less progress has been made in charging for news than many in the journalism industry had predicted, according to the report.

The leading study on the subject finds that so far only about three dozen newspapers have moved to some kind of paid content on their websites. Of those, only 1% of users opted to pay. And some papers that moved large portions of content to subscription gave up the effort.

A new survey released for this report suggests that under certain circumstances the prospects for charging for content could improve. If their local newspaper would otherwise perish, 23% of Americans said they would pay $5 a month for an online version. To date, however, even among early adopters, only 10% of those who have downloaded local news apps paid for them (this doesn't include apps for non-local news or other content).

At the moment, the only news producers successfully charging for most of their content online are those selling financial information to elite audiences -- the Financial Times is one, the Wall Street Journal is another, Bloomberg is a third -- all operations aimed at professional audiences, which means they are not a model that will work for general interest news.

Overall, nearly every sector of the U.S. news industry saw revenue growth in 2010, except for newspapers. From the Pew Center:

After two dreadful years, most sectors of the industry saw revenue begin to recover. With some notable exceptions, cutbacks in newsrooms eased. And while still more talk than action, some experiments with new revenue models began to show signs of blossoming.

Among the major sectors, only newspapers suffered continued revenue declines last year -- an unmistakable sign that the structural economic problems facing newspapers are more severe than those of other media. When the final tallies are in, we estimate 1,000 to 1,500 more newsroom jobs will have been lost -- meaning newspaper newsrooms are 30% smaller than in 2000.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: One of the many newsstands sprinkled throughout downtown Los Angeles, photographed Jan. 6, 2010. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times

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