Roughly a third of U.S. adults are regularly getting news from Facebook, according to Pew Research surveys.
A quarter of Americans are getting news from Google’s YouTube, and 13% are getting news from Facebook’s sister site Instagram, Pew reported in a new “fact sheet” on news consumption.
This is timely as Congress considers whether to help news outlets negotiate fair compensation from these dominant social-media platforms.
While not a revelation, it continues to be remarkable, given that Facebook and Google don’t have newsrooms doing any original reporting. Instead, they benefit from investments in news gathering by thousands of news outlets that are struggling to survive in the digital marketplace.
As stated in a 2020 report by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., “local news has been hijacked by a few large news aggregation platforms, most notably Google and Facebook, which have become the dominant players in advertising.
“These trillion-dollar companies scrape local news content and data for their own sites and leverage their market dominance to force local news to accept little to no compensation for their intellectual property.”
Pew’s numbers also offer a reason for these tech giants to change their approach. Instead of fighting tooth and nail to avoid paying for legitimate news, these sites should consider it an investment in trustworthy content they need.
Pew surveys found the number of Facebook users regularly getting news at the site fell substantially over the last three years, from 54% to 44% of users. The percent of YouTube users who regularly get news there fell from 32% to 30%, while Instagram’s news users held steady, rising from 28% to 29%.
Meanwhile news consumption jumped at their surging competitor, TikTok. The percentage of users regularly getting news there rose from 22% to 33% over the same period.
Members of Congress are considering whether to approve the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which is scheduled for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday, Sept. 22. Pew’s numbers add context and suggest a possible outcome, if they side with Google and Facebook and decline to help local news outlets get paid by platforms profiting off their content.
America will not only lose more local news coverage that’s essential to an informed democracy. It will also apparently see more of its citizens getting news from a secretive Chinese-owned video site, just as U.S.-China relations become frighteningly tense and China steps up efforts to sow misinformation.
Combined with other foreign and domestic threats to democracy, that makes the need to sustain a local press system and an informed, engaged citizenry greater than ever.
Pew also found demographic and political differences among those who regularly get news on social media. On sites such as TikTok, Snapchat and Reddit, half or more of the regular news consumers are 18 to 29 years old.
Among Facebook’s regular news consumers, 63% are women, while Twitter is the opposite with just 40% women.
Regular news readers on social media are also mostly Democrats, including 65% of them on Twitter and Instagram.
Pew notes that some sites have more news consumers, but have much smaller audiences. Twitter, for instance, is used by just under three in 10U.S. adults (27%) but about half its users (53%) regularly get news at the site.
A second Pew fact sheet, describing modes of news consumption, echoes declines in news readership following the turbulent Trump era.
Some 82% of U.S. adults “say they often or sometimes get news from a smartphone, computer or tablet, including 49% who say they do so often.”
That’s down from 51% who often consumed news on digital devices in 2021 and 60% in 2020, Pew surveys found.
The share of people who often get news from TV fell from 40% to 31% over the last three years. For radio, the share fell from 16% to 13% and for print it fell from 10% to 8%.
Also relevant to the JCPA discussion: Pew found that 60% of U.S. adults often or sometimes get news from digital search platforms and 50% get news from social media. That’s comparable to news websites and apps, where 63% said they often or sometimes get news.
Local news traffic woes: In contrast to the Big Tech platforms, local newspaper websites saw page views and unique visitors fall roughly 20% this year, causing more worries for publishers, Rick Edmonds writes at Poynter.org.
This comes as the industry is transitioning to a more digital future, though newspapers still get an average of 85% of their subscription revenue from print, Edmonds writes. Some publishers are now concerned their digital subscription growth may be plateauing, especially after years of cost-cutting thinned out their news reports.
“All this hits as print revenues — both print subscriptions and advertising — are falling fast at local newspapers and digital gains continue to not make up the difference,” Edmonds writes.
If only there was a way for newspapers to get fairly compensated by fabulously profitable tech platforms, where millions of Americans are now getting their news.
This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletter. Sign up to receive it at the Save the Free Press website.