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Internet use could kill off local newspapers, study finds

AFP | August 17, 2007

News audiences are ditching television and newspapers and using the Internet as their main source of information, in a trend that could eventually see the demise of local papers, according to a new study Wednesday.

"As online use has increased, the audiences of older media have declined," Harvard University professor Thomas Patterson said in a report on the year-long study issued by Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

"In the past year alone... newspaper circulation has fallen by three percent, broadcast news has lost a million viewers," said the study, entitled "Creative Destruction: An Exploratory Look and News on the Internet."

Meanwhile, the numbers of people using the Internet as a news source have increased -- exponentially, in some cases.

Traffic to websites that post news produced by a third source, including search engines and service providers, aggregators, such as topix.net or digg.com, which use software to monitor and post web content; and blogs -- increased across the board between April 2006 and the same month in 2007.

Monthly visitors to Digg.com, an aggregator which lets users decide on site content, skyrocketed in the 12 months to April 2007, from two million to more than 15 million.

Other online news sources grew more modestly, with user rates growing by 14 percent for community websites and six percent for blogs.

The Google, Yahoo, AOL and MSN websites between them have about 100 million monthly visitors, far outpacing user numbers on websites of major television networks, which averaged 7.4 million visitors a month.

"Brand name" daily newspapers, such as the New York Times and Washington Post, averaged 8.5 million monthly visitors.

But newspapers in medium-sized to small cities saw either a drop in or no change to the numbers of visitors to their websites, which have already taken readers from hard-copy editions.

The authors of the study predict that many small newspapers could have difficulty holding on to even their web audience, and counsel that they include "national and international news in the mix."

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