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Navigating News Online

“Whatever the future of journalism, much of it depends on understanding the ways that people navigate the digital news environment—the behavior of what might be called the new news consumer.

Despite the unprecedented level of data about what news people consume online and how they consume it, understanding these new metrics has often proven elusive. The statistics are complicated, sometimes contradictory, and often introduce new information whose meaning is not clear.

To shed more light on Web news behavior, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has conducted an in-depth study of detailed audience statistics from the Nielsen Company. The study examines the top 25 news websites in popularity in the United States, delving deeply into four main areas of audience behavior: how users get to the top news sites; how long they stay during each visit; how deep they go into a site; and where they go when they leave.

Overall, the findings suggest that there is not one group of news consumers online but several, each of which behaves differently. These differences call for news organizations to develop separate strategies to serve and make money from each audience.

The findings also reveal that while search aggregators remain the most popular way users find news, the universe of referring sites is diverse. Social media is rapidly becoming a competing driver of traffic. And far from obsolete, home pages are usually the most popular page for most of the top news sites.

What users do with news content, the study also suggests, could significantly influence the economics of the news industry. Understanding not only what content users will want to consume but also what content they are likely to pass along may be a key to how stories are put together and even what stories get covered in the first place.”
By Kenny Olmstead, Amy Mitchell and Tom Rosenstiel on Journalism.org

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