Watershed moment for media as more people now consume news online than in print

 

Media Editor

In a landmark moment in the evolution of media, more people now access their news via the Internet as by the traditional route of reading a printed newspaper, the media regulator Ofcom has confirmed.

The tablet or smartphone would have been beyond the imagination of Richard Steele, Joseph Addison and the other pioneers who sold their prints in the coffee houses of early 18th-Century London. Or indeed of the editor of London’s Intelligencer or Truth Impartially Related from Thence to the Whole Kingdome to prevent Misinformation, an English Civil War publication which went on display at the British Library’s digitised newspaper archive this summer.

But Ofcom yesterday recorded in its News Consumption in the UK  report that 41 per cent of the public accesses news via the web and mobile apps, compared to 40 per cent who read printed newspapers.

Newspaper publishers will take comfort from the fact that the percentage of print readers has remained stable over the past 12 months – but the proportion accessing news digitally has increased sharply from 32 per cent last year.

“This is a watershed moment,” said John Lloyd, Director of Journalism at the Reuters Institute in Oxford. “It shows that the rising generations – and not just teenagers but also 40-somethings – are taking their news from their desktops, mobiles and tablets.”

He said the findings should convince newspaper publishers of the need to develop their digital news offerings. “Increasingly newspapers will have to find their futures on the web and monetise their news in whatever ways they can – whether through introducing paywalls or by other means. The advantage is that they will lose their costs in paper, print and distribution.”

The increase in digital access to news is being driven by younger generations, with 60 per cent of 16-24 year olds following this pattern (compared to 44 per cent of this demographic last year). The web and apps have also overhauled radio as a source of news, with only 36 per cent now using this medium. Television remains the most popular source of news, although the 75 per cent who cited it as a source was fewer than the 78 per cent recorded in 2013.

The way news is read has come a long way since newspapers began in 18th centure coffee houses The way news is read has come a long way since newspapers began in 18th centure coffee houses (Getty)

Ofcom’s study revealed marked differences between the generations in the use of mobile devices to access news. Only four per cent of over 55s accessed news via a mobile and seven per cent on a tablet. Among 16-24s, 40 per cent used mobiles for news and 15 per cent used tablets.

Older respondents were far more likely to watch television news (typically 196 hours a year) compared to 16-24s (just 27 hours a year). The average adult in the UK consumes 115 hours of television news a year.

Some five per cent of UK adults – and 10 per cent of 16-24s said they did not follow news at all.

The newspaper titles most cited by respondents were The Sun (26 per cent), the Daily Mail (21 per cent), the Daily Mirror (13 per cent), and Metro (9 per cent) which the report said had seen “a significant decrease since 2013”  when it was cited by 12 per cent of respondents.

Among television news channels, Sky News (which rose from 20 per cent in 2013 to 23 per cent) overhauled the BBC News Channel, which was cited as a source by 21 per cent of people (the same percentage as in 2013). BBC1 was the most popular source of TV news, named by 71 per cent.

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