Just by reading this online story, you are part of a groundbreaking trend. According to a new study from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released last week, the Internet has passed newspapers as the most popular source for news.
Only television surpassed the Net, with about 70 percent of Americans saying they get most of their national and international news from the ubiquitous box. About 40 percent say they get most of their news from the Net, an increase of 16 percent from September 2007. Newspapers are the main source for about 35 percent.
This is the first time the Net has surpassed newspapers as a source of news.
Driven by Under-30s
As in so many other trends, younger people are the key driver. For Americans younger than 30, about 59 percent get their news online, a dramatic increase from just a year ago, when the figure was 34 percent. The percentage of those under 30 who cited television as their main news source declined 10 percent in the last year.
But television remains popular among the under-30s, with 59 percent also citing television as a primary news source. The wording of the survey allowed respondents to name more than one source for most of their news.
Newspapers actually gained a bit among young people in the last year, going from 23 percent to 28 percent.
Although the Pew study did not cite reasons for the rise of the Net as a news source, some observers have speculated on the causes. These include the ability to find any news source quickly on the Net, at any time, without waiting for its rotation on TV or flipping through a printed newspaper.
Additionally, cutbacks in some areas, such as CNN's recent decision to eliminate its science, technology and environment unit, have driven subject-specific news consumers to Web-based coverage. However, in-depth coverage of certain areas is still considered a key strength for some newspapers.
The survey, taken Dec. 3 through 7, questioned 1,489 adults. In addition to tracking the source of news, Pew also looked at the kind of news stories that attracted the most attention.
The top story of the year in terms of interest was the economy, according to Pew's Weekly News Interest Index. Seventy percent of those surveyed said they followed the economy closely after the financial crisis hit in late September. This put the story among the highest levels of attention for any news story in the last two decades.
A related story, gas prices, was also very popular, with 66 percent of Americans saying they followed news about it very closely. This compares to a peak of 53 percent of Americans who followed this story in 2007.
The presidential campaign was also a highly popular continuing story, with a peak of 61 percent in October.