Study: Online News Audience Growth Stalling

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Far more Americans use the Internet to get their news than a decade ago, but the rate of online news audience growth is slowing, according to a study released on Sunday.

Nearly one in three Americans regularly used the Internet to get their news in 2006, compared to one in 50 in 1996, according to the Pew Research Center for People and the Press.

That number is about the same as it was two years ago, said Pew Research Center Director Andrew Kohut.

The growth rate in online news usage has been slower among younger readers. The percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds who get the news online at least three days a week rose only 1 percentage point to 30 percent during the past six years.

The percentage growth among readers age 35 to 49 has risen 12 percent in the same time period, according to the study.

On a wider level, the percentage of Americans who skip the news on a single day has remained the same since the 1990s, the study said. "Nor are Americans spending any more time with the news than they did a decade ago when their news choices were much more limited."

"For young people in particular, getting the news often takes a back seat to other daily activities," said the study, which was based on telephone interviews with more than 3,200 U.S. adults in April and May.

Forty percent of those under age 30 said they watched a movie at home on video, DVD or pay-per-view yesterday, compared to 24 percent who said they read a newspaper or went online for news.

The study highlights one of the biggest problems facing the news businesses — keeping and growing their audience. Newspapers in particular have suffered declining circulation as people seek their news elsewhere, often for free on television and the Internet.

Four in 10 Americans reported reading a newspaper "yesterday," down from 50 percent a decade ago and down from 71 percent reported by a Gallup survey in 1965, the Pew study said.

Newspaper publishers have embarked on public relations and educational campaigns to try to reverse the circulation decline. They have also been devoting more money and staff to their Web sites to chase readers and advertising dollars that many of their print editions are losing.

While that has succeeded to some degree, the study found, newspaper readership is falling. "Even the highest estimate of daily newspaper readership — 43 percent for both print and online readers — is still well below the number reading a print newspaper on a typical day 10 years ago," the study said.

Online news consumers tend to visit large Web-news operations run by cable networks or online media companies. Thirty-one percent of people who regularly get news on the Internet listed MSNBC as one of the sites they use most often. Twenty-three percent picked (YHOO).

The New York Times (NYT) and Gannett Co. Inc.'s (GCI) USA Today Web sites were the most popular among regular newspaper Web sites, with 5 percent saying those sites were ones they visit most often.