The Internet is now the third most-popular resource for Americans' daily news, behind local and national television news, and about a third of cell phone owners are using their devices to catch up on the latest information, according to a new study.
An "overwhelming majority" of Americans — 92 percent — say they use multiple resources for news, from Web-based news sites, blogs and social networking programs like Twitter and Facebook, to more traditional fare including television, newspapers and radio, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
But, on a "typical day," six in 10 American adults get their news online, "placing it third among the six major news platforms asked about in the survey, behind local television news and national or cable television news," according to the report.
The study, which focused on trying to understand "the new news landscape" in the United States, comes at a time when many newspapers and TV stations around the country are struggling, as more Americans turn to other avenues to get their information.
‘Portable, personalized, participatory’
Pew noted the Internet's influence, along with mobile technology's, in shaping Americans' relationships to news as "becoming portable, personalized and participatory."
"The rise of social media like social networking sites and blogs has helped the news become a social experience for consumers," Pew said in a statement. "People use their social networks and social networking technology to filter, assess and react to news. They also use traditional e-mail and other tools to swap stories and comment on them."
Thirty-seven percent of cell phone owners use their phones to go online, the study says, with 33 percent of them looking for news, weather, sports and traffic information.
Pew also found that "cell users under age 50 are almost three times as likely as their older counterparts to get news on the go," be it via cell phone or other wireless devices like laptops or netbooks.
Thirty-seven percent of Internet users surveyed say they have contributed to the "creation" of news, commented on it online, and shared or posted news on sites like Facebook and Twitter, according to the study; 28 percent say they have "customized" their home pages to include news "from sources and on topics that particularly interest them."
The ‘Daily Me’
Call it, Pew said, the "Daily Me," with 40 percent of Internet users saying an important feature of news sites is the ability to customize the information they get. Thirty-six percent say they like the ability to "manipulate content themselves," including graphics, maps and quizzes.
"People feel more and more pressed about the volume of information flowing into their lives. So, they customize the information flow in order to manage their lives well and in order to get the material that they feel is most relevant to them," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
"They don’t want weather and traffic and high school sports scores from communities on the other side of the country, or news about job sectors that are far removed from their professions. They want material that tells them about the communities they care about — geographic and topical."
There is a concern by critics as more people "customize their news experiences, they might screen out other information that would help them and would give them some common connections to others," he said.
"News, particularly big news, is a socially binding agent. So these critics fear that as people retreat to niches, they won’t share common facts and common insights into their society with their neighbors and fellow citizens."
There also appears to be an appetite to get daily news from several sources. Pew found that 59 percent of Americans say they get their news from a combination of online and offline sources, 38 percent use only "offline sources," and only 2 percent "rely exclusively on the Internet for their daily news."
Americans are "news grazers both on and offline — but within limits," said Amy Mitchell, deputy director for the Project for Excellence in Journalism, in a statement.
"They generally don’t have one favorite Web site, but also don’t search aimlessly. Most online news consumers regularly draw on just a handful of different sites."
Kristen Purcell, associate director of research for Pew Internet, said "Most people who get news online forage widely," exploring a "variety of different news topics online," but using only "a handful of online sources on a regular basis."
The most widely used sites are news "aggregators," such as Yahoo and MSN, she said, as well as the sites of national television organizations "which indicates that people like to be fairly economical in their online news consumption, getting lots of different information in just a few places." (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
"Portal" sites, such as Google News, AOL and Topix are "the most commonly used online news sources, visited by half of online news users on a typical day," the Pew report found. "Also faring well are the sites of traditional news organizations with an offline presence, such as CNN, BBC and local or national newspapers."
Overwhelmed by information
The findings also show that "for some people, it is pretty clearly the case that they get less news than in the past because these technologies give them lots of new ways to spend their time," and it's not on news, Rainie said.
However, "for those who really care about news, there is more opportunity and more material than ever for them to consume. So, it’s likely the case that some segments of society have pulled away from news, and other segments have become even more deeply engaged. It’s a mixed picture."
Indeed, while 55 percent of those surveyed said news and information is "easier to keep up with ... in a world where news is updated constantly and they can access news all the time," 70 percent said they find it "overwhelming" to do so.
The question was asked, Rainie said, because "some analysts worry that feelings of information overload lead to stress and anxiety. People might feel they are 'falling behind' their competitors, or even their colleagues, in being 'in the know' and being on top of important subjects."
The Pew survey of 2,259 adults was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International between Dec. 28 and Jan. 19.