It's been about 20 years since Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web on the back of the Internet. For more than a billion people on the planet, the Web today is an alternate, digital universe that is gradually overtaking the analog, physical world as a source of information and connections.
Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducted a survey that rendered two obvious conclusions: the Internet has overtaken newspapers as a source of national and international news, and television, led by CNN, continues to serve as the main source.
According to the Pew survey, 40 percent of respondents (versus 24 percent in 2007) said the Internet is their primary source for national and international news. That compares with 35 percent (versus 34 percent 2007) who rely on newspapers and 70 percent (versus 74 percent in 2007) who use television as their main source. Given the historic presidential campaign and economic woes this year, the large percentage increase year-over-year for the Internet is not surprising.
Among Americans under 30, 59 percent (versus 34 percent in 2007) said they get most of their national and international news from the Internet. Television tied with the Internet at 59 percent for that group, but that was a decline from 68 percent in 2007. (The figures add up to more 100 percent, by the way, because people could offer multiple answers.)
Television and printed newspapers are clearly stressed by financial pressures, which have been amplified by the ailing economy. While some of the newspapers have leading Web sites, their financial staple--classifieds and job and real estate listings--has been dominated by independent Internet services such as Craigslist, Monster.com, and Redfin. Mainstream television is competing with the likes of YouTube for eyeballs and is still trying to figure out how to swim with the Internet fishes and generate revenue, which at this point is a rounding error.
Most newspapers have figured out that you create content for the Web first and that the print edition is a byproduct of that output. Television programming can be viewed on a TV, PC, smartphone, or digital billboard. But as NBC's Jeff Zucker said recently, "People had been counting on digital exposure. I had been trying to talk about the fact that even as it grew, it was not necessarily the big growth engine for legacy media companies that were trading those analog dollars for digital dimes. We're now up to dimes. That's an improvement. It's still not a dollar for a dime kind of business that I would like to be in."
While the Internet is growing as the place where people go for news, the revenue simply isn't catching up fast enough. The less obvious part of the Internet overtaking newspapers as the main source for national and international news is that much of the seed content--the original reporting that breaks national and international news and is subsequently refactored by legions of bloggers--comes from the reporters and editors working at the financially strapped newspapers and national and local television outlets.
New publishing entities, such as Politico, the nonprofit ProPublica, the Huffington Post, and numerous blogs are making original contributions to national and international news, and some are trying to make money while they're at it.
As the financial pressures mount--the outlook for 2009 is dismal--and the cost cutting continues, we can only hope that the original news reporting by top-flight journalists is not a major casualty.