Pew: Online News Consumers Know Where They've Been

A Pew Research Center survey finds that direct links to a news organization's website and social media are the top "news pathways" online, and that a majority of the time, news consumers remember where they have been and return there.  

According to the survey, 36% of the time people got news online, they did so by going directly to a news organization website, while 35% of the time they got their news via social media. The other pathways were search engines (20% of the time), a news organization email or text alert (15%), and text or email from family or friend (7%). The numbers add up to more than 100% because respondents could cite more than one pathway.

The majority appear to be creatures of news habit, with 65% saying they got their news from the same pathway more than half the time.

For the study, Pew tracked the panel (of 2,004) for a week, asking them twice per day if they had gotten news online within the past two hours, resulting in up to 14 completed surveys per person or 25,602 interviews.

The survey suggests that strong news site branding pays off.

"The study sheds light on whether people are actually aware of the sources of news they consume," said the report, "a question all the more relevant in light of the prevalence of fabricated news stories during the final weeks of the 2016 election."

The survey found that for more than half of those news visits (56%), respondents could write down the name of the news outlet, though not surprisingly they were "far more" able to do so when they had gone directly to the site rather than when it came from social media, an email or text.

Older online news consumers were more likely to recall the source (57% for 30-49-year-olds and 61% for 50 and older), than younger viewers (47% for 18-29). That squared with another finding—that those younger demos got their news through social media at a much higher percentage.

The survey was conducted Feb. 24-March 1, 2016 among 2,004 online news consumers (the sample selected for adults who got at least some news online) and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

(Photo via Jeroen Bennink's Flickr. Image taken on Feb. 6, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 9x16 aspect ratio.)

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.