Numbers: Sorry Journalists, They’re Not Your Enemy After All

Be warned: I’m about to throw a small bit of data at you. I understand that, if you’re part of the “math fearing”  media (which I don’t quite understand, but that’s a post for a different time), numbers can be scary. However, I promise you, I’ll go easy on the mathematical analysis. I even included a pretty graph (thank you Excel!).

Two days ago, the Pew Research Center released its annual State of the News Media report. While journalism professors around the country quickly pointed out the new evidence that the newspaper industry is rapidly deteriorating or reemphasizing their lesson of go digital or go home, a far different data set drew me in: the relationship between news sites and social media.

A few weeks ago, I ripped into Al Jazeera America for what I deemed an exceptionally poor usage of social media. It turns out, social media may not be as dominant a player as I thought.

Let me explain.

The Pew Research Center’s study reiterated what probably most of us already know: a lot of people are using social media to get their daily news. However, what surprised me the most was also something I already knew, yet I never really acknowledged it until I read the study’s recap on social media. Two main points stuck out:

1. Most people (78%) who get their news on Facebook are not on Facebook to actually get their news. Pew refers to this as an “incidental” occurrence of news consumption (i.e. they didn’t really want the news, it just happened to be there).

2. A reader who goes directly to a site to get his or her news spends much more time and looks at a greater number of pages than a reader who is referred to the site by social media or a search engine. How big is this difference? The following data comes straight from the study:

Graph comes directly from Pew Research Center's State of the News Media 2014 Report. Click on the graph to be taken to the original site.

Graph comes directly from Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2014 Report. Click on the graph to be taken to the original site.

 The following chart presents this data as the percentage greater a visitor performs an activity when he or she arrives directly to the site as opposed to him or her arriving through Facebook or a search engine. Because that’s a convoluted but the easiest way for me to explain it, I’ll give an example: users accessing a site directly spent 273% more time on it than those who arrived by Facebook and 271% more time than those who arrived by search engine.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 3.21.45 PM

Table by Nicole Seese. Data from Pew Research Center. Made using Microsoft Word.


And for those of you who are visually inclined, I also converted the data into a bar graph.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 2.28.17 PM

Graph by Nicole Seese. Data from Pew Research Center. Made using Microsoft Excel.

After viewing this data, I realized that, no matter how prominent social media may seem in the online news market, sites still post the highest stats from loyal readers who may not be inclined to the quickly digested and always changing news of millennials. I think I berated Al Jazeera America’s social media use prematurely. In this ever-transforming world, it’s easy to believe that social media is king, but Pew’s study may show that traditional journalism hasn’t taken it’s last breath yet.

However, it does show that sometimes journalists need numbers after all (but don’t blame the messenger on this one!)


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