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The Growing Impact of the Internet

  • The number of Americans actively using the Internet from their homes in a given week in April 2006 was 113,644,910 out a total of 205,133,028 with Internet access, according to Nielsen.  These users spent an average of 8 3/4 hours on the Internet per week.  The total number active on the Internet from their homes in the whole month was 143,596,769 with an average of over 30 hours spent per month. 

    Additionally, 55,540,803 out of 62,133,101 Americans with access to the Internet at work were active in a given week with an average of more than 19 hours spent per week.  The Nielsen numbers do not include Internet usage at schools, libraries and other locations.

  • Of the 116 million American adults who use the Internet on a regular basis, more than 47 million Americans say their use of the Internet helps them stay abreast of the news, according to the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press. 

    A total of over 30 million Americans get news via the Internet each day. 

  • Internet news usage spikes significantly when large news stories are happening such as the Iraq War, the 9-11 attacks and the 2000 Election.   According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study, for example, fifty million American adults (48 percent of adult Internet users at the time), sought online news on the 2000 election and its aftermath. 

    Similarly, a Pew study during the Iraq War found 56 percent of adult Internet users, or 65 million Americans, used the Web to get war-related news and commentary.

  • In addition, Americans reliance on the Internet is increasing.  For example, immediately after the 9-11 attacks, only 3 percent of online Americans said the Internet was their primary source of information about the attacks and their aftermath.  Only a year and a half later, in the weeks leading up to the war with Iraq, 26 percent of online Americans said the Internet was their primary source of news and information about the possibility of war  - a number that places it on a par with both newspapers and radio. 

    Likewise, polls by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found in 1996 that just 4 percent of Americans had gone online for campaign news in the election, yet in the year 2000 the percentage had already increased to 20 percent. The number of Internet users has grown dramatically since then.

  • Research also shows that, whether a major event is taking place or not, the Internet is by far the primary news source for most Americans during the workday.  In a study by the Online Publishers Association, 65 percent of people said “Internet news is the main way I keep in touch with world events while I’m at work,” while 58 percent said the same for technology news and 56 percent said the same for business/financial news.
  • Another interesting trend found in a July 2003 survey conducted by the  Ford Foundation and the Associated Press Managing Editors of users of DallasNews.com and three other news sites, is that people who use Internet news sites do so with great consistency. 

    For example, 84 percent of the users of the sites said they often use Internet news sites to stay informed, compared with 60 percent who often use television, and less than 50 percent who tune in to radio or open a daily newspaper. 

    Two-thirds of respondents said they would use an Internet news site before a radio, TV newscast or a daily newspaper to catch up with the day’s events.  Once people switch to Internet news, which is increasingly the case, it often becomes their primary medium.

  • News sites are the most visited category on the Internet. When asked what types of websites they visited in the past week in a survey by the Online Publishers Association, 62 percent of Internet users said News, followed by Weather at 58 percent, Financial Services at 43 percent, and Retail Shopping at 40 percent.  Of the 27 types of sites, the lowest were Automobile at 12 percent, Parenting at 11 percent and Personal/Dating Services at 8 percent.
  • Also of note is that the wealthy and educated Americans who possess the bulk of wealth and influence rely more heavily on the Internet for their news than any other group.  A 2003 study by the Online Publishers Association found that of those who use news sites at work, 62 percent are highly educated, 46 percent are affluent and 22 percent are top-level professionals.  Similarly, a Ford Foundation survey of users of four online news sites found that 18 percent earned $35,000 to $50,000 a year, 26 percent made $50,000 to $75,000, 18 percent made $75,000 to $100,000, and about 19 percent made $100,000 or more.  According to the National Newspaper Association, “Compared to online audiences in general, online newspaper readers are younger, more affluent and better educated.”
  • The Pew study also found that Internet veterans (those with more than six years of online experience) and broadband users (those with cable, DSL or similar) are the most likely to be getting news online.  For example, nearly half of broadband users are getting news online each day - almost double the 26 percent of all Internet users who get news daily online. 

    This study found 70 percent of those with broadband used the Internet for news during the War with Iraq.  The key to this is that as the number of Internet veterans and broadband users continues to rapidly grow, use of Internet news sites will also grow even larger. A large number of users started using the Internet between 1998 and 2000 and are now Internet veterans; access to broadband is also rapidly growing.


When audience trends are examined closely, one cannot escape the sense that the nation is heading toward a situation, especially at the national level, in which institutions that were once in different media, such as CBS and The Washington Post, will be direct competitors on a single primary field of battle - online.  .... This is an exciting possibility that offers the potential of new audiences, new ways of storytelling, more immediacy and more citizen involvement.

- From the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s State of the Media report

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