Web threatens traditional news organisations

Nontraditional media websites, such as blogs and search engines, growing faster than websites connected to traditional news media outlets, says study

The internet is a threat to traditional news organisations, which no longer have the advantage of being the first to report breaking news online, according to a Harvard University study (pdf) released last week.

Researchers at the Joan Shorenstein Centre on the Press, Politics & Public Policy found that nontraditional media websites, including aggregators, bloggers, search engines and service providers, were growing faster than websites connected to traditional news media outlets, such as newspapers. The researchers studied the traffic of 160 news sites for one year, from April 2006 to April 2007.

The websites of Google, Yahoo and AOL, as well as MSN and smaller sites such as topix.net, digg.com and reddit.com experienced large increases in traffic.

"Between April 2006 and April 2007, Digg's unique monthly visitors grew from under 2 million to more than 15 million," the study said, adding that Reddit and Topix grew from less than 50,000 visitors a month to more than 700,000.

However, news organisations can still prosper on the web if they can adapt, the study said.

"Local news organisations are 'brand names' within their communities, which can be used to their advantage," according to the study. "Their offline reach can also be used to drive traffic to their sites. Most important, they have a product — the news — that people want. Ironically, some news organisations do not feature the day's news prominently on their websites, forgoing their natural advantage."

While traffic to the websites of nationally known newspapers grew by 10%, traffic to the web sites of lesser-known newspapers decreased by varying percentages, according to the study.

Traffic to the websites of national TV networks, such as CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC and Fox grew 30%, the study found. Visitors to the websites of local commercial TV and radio stations also increased, but at a slower pace.

"Because the web reduces the influence of geography on people's choice of a news source, it inherently favours 'brand names' — those relatively few news organisations that readily come to mind to Americans everywhere when they go to the internet for news," the study said.

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