An international report from the Reuters Institute, released last week, shows that social media are changing the way people access and process daily news.
The study looked at the news consumption habits of 18,000 people in 10 countries, including the UK, US, Germany and France.
Among other things, it shows that few people are willing to pay for news these days and the number of consumers accessing news via smartphones or tablets is growing rapidly.
The UK rates lowest in terms of the number of people willing to pay for their news. Just seven percent or Brits are willing to do so - although one wonders whether the 47 percent who cite the BBC as their top online service have factored in the cost of their licence fee.
The study showed that more than half of those polled take their online news from an established brand. Only 16 percent use digital-only news sites, such as Buzzfeed and Huffington Post – with the exception being people in the US and Japan, where this type of service is more popular.
The poll also reveals that 39 percent of online news consumers across all countries use two or more digital devices each week to access news and one fifth say that their mobile phone is their primary news access point.
Facebook is the leading social media news source across most countries. This is hardly surprising given that it was among the first social media outlets and is now positioning itself to be a truly cross-media platform incorporating chat, blogs, photos, videos and even business sites.
There are obvious attractions when it comes to social media as news sources. The first is the immediacy they offer. Fifty percent of those surveyed by Reuters claimed that while online they ready only headlines as opposed to full reports.
Platforms like Twitter, which is apparently a favourite in the US and UK, are tailor-made for this. They offer a live stream of mainly raw information which hasn't yet been fully processed in the way it will be before it appears in most newspapers or TV newscasts.
On social media, stories are often still unfolding and developing. For an audience now increasingly raised on immersive gaming and instant gratification media, this is a major draw – it offers the chance to feel that one is almost a part of the story.
Social media also offer the convenience of distillation. New stories are broken into bite-sized (or byte-sized) chunks, making them easy to digest via a mobile phone, in the midst of a busy schedule.
The 140 character limit on Twitter, for example - most messages are shorter than that, to allow for forwarding – means that readers don't have to work through a paragraph or two before they reach the nub of the story. WhatsApp, which is also growing as a news-sharing source, offers the same benefit with an even more targeted reach.
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