Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Why national newspapers are losing out to the web

Posted by Edward Mather on February 21, 2008


Daily readership of online news has overtaken national newspapers for the 15 to 44 age group, one of the most important target audiences in the UK. The findings, based on a sample of 1000 adults representative of the UK population, are published today in Spectrum Consulting’s Online Buzz Report 2008. They reveal that 45% of the 15 to 44 age group read online news on a daily basis compared to just 38% who read newspapers.

I saw this brief news snippet quoted on the WolfSTAR blog recently. Although it may not be classed as groundbreaking I think it is still very interesting – concrete statistics always seem to help raise something’s appeal to me.

There are many reasons why this trend is becoming so marked. You could talk about the increasing prevalence of mobile devices such as iPhones and PDAs that allow people to access the news wherever they are – the days of people desperately striving to track down an English copy of The Times while holidaying in some far flung corner of the world, have long since disappeared. Today’s reader simply flicks on their mobile and within seconds can be looking at Times Online or whatever takes their fancy.

A second reason may be the fact that when at work, people are so glued to their computer screens that they are barely able to raise an eye to acknowledge a colleague, let alone pick up a newspaper; but it is much easier to quickly navigate away from that thrilling financial report to check the BBC news website for a couple of minutes. 

Thirdly, and for me this may be the crux, online news offers readers an unmatched opportunity to actually engage with the news and react to what they read. Rather than having to accept the journalist’s viewpoint and be resigned to just debating the issues out amongst friends, readers can react immediately and throw their opinions out to the wider online audience.

This isn’t to say that response has never before been possible. People have always been able to write letters to the editor for example. But these have always had to be of a very high quality, because when you’re vying for a one-in-ten spot against thousands of other letter writers, your chance of being published is small. But online, the odds change considerably with the opportunity to “post your comment” handed out to anyone, so long (as that comment doesn’t contain insults or libelous content).

More importantly, the ability for so many to voice their opinions often sparks vigorous debate and enriches the original news content no end, therefore online news can often be more appealing than news in the “traditional” format.

Therefore, yes, paper readership may be suffering and this is upsetting (particularly for owners of printing presses); but in terms of the greater ease and richer content that online news can bring to readers, I, personally, see this revolution as nothing but a good thing.

And in related news, this from the Guardian’s website today:


The US presidential elections and a bumper celebrity news month, with the death of Heath Ledger and Britney Spears’ ongoing problems, produced record traffic for the UK’s newspaper websites during January…


One Response to “Why national newspapers are losing out to the web”

  1. Mr Wiggins said

    Does anyone really believe that the ability to “answer back” to news reports is, truly, such an attractive proposition to the news-reader?
    Certainly, if one compares the traffic to the Economist or BBC News with the number of people who feel compelled to give their “twopenneth” it seems only a tiny proportion actually take the opportunity to do so.
    At the risk of seeming cynical, I would suggest that people like News websites to sport such functionality because they like to read inane points of view. Contributions to news stories tend to be over-simplistic, if not downright bigoted (a belief which, I admit, may invalidate this very contribution).
    UCG is all very well, but, at the end of the day, journalists are professionals, selected by market forces for their unusual ability to communicate. No-one should expect outspoken members of the populace to be able to, or even want to, compete with them in professional commentary.

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