Surprising news: Online media helps our communities

Here’s fascinating news from a major national study of media: Online news and information makes people feel better about their communities! Do you understand why that’s big news? As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, as I travel around the U.S. talking with Americans, many people tell me that they perceive the online world as a dangerous snakepit. They’ve seen the Wild West nature of the Internet and they only grudgingly admit that online media represents “the future.”

Now, there’s a major study of this question—How does news and information affect our overall impressions about our communities? The conclusion is: More news and information is good for us. And, specifically, the Internet provides a major boost in positive feelings about our hometowns and our neighbors.

Who would have imagined that? Well, if you’ve been following the explosion of social media, then this isn’t a surprising conclusion. One third of men and women in the national study say they get their primary information about their community—and issues that really matter to them—through social media, primarily Facebook. (Other online social sites were included in the study, such as MySpace, Linked In and Twitter, but—for example—only 6 percent of people in the survey said they Tweet. From this report and other recent research, Facebook clearly emerges as the Grand Central Station of social media these days.)

Newspapers are dead! Long live newspapers!

The most encouraging data for print newspapers is that Americans still prefer print when they want news about “my city” or “my neighborhood.” A third of respondents said they turn, first, to print newspapers and magazines. Only 10 percent go “online” for news about their “neighborhood” and only 20 percent look for “online” news about their “city.”

And radio? It’s not a factor. Only 2 percent turn to radio for “neighborhood” news and only 7 percent turn on the radio for news about their “city.” Anyone who works in newspaper marketing or advertising sales should print and laminate that particular table within this report and carry it into meetings with clients.

Now, here’s the bad news for print: Where the online world trumps all other media is “topics that are of special interest to me personally.” There, 35 percent go online. Only 25 percent turn to print. (Television gets only 23 percent and radio draws only 5 percent when it comes to these topics that really matter.)

For anyone who understands the media business, it’s this last category that truly represents the future. For decades, newspaper focus groups have been organized coast to coast to study the future of news media. And, in one focus group after another, Americans dutifully tell their discussion moderators that, yes indeed, they do want news about topics related to civic life, education and so on. We all think of ourselves as responsible citizens.

Then, those same Americans go home—and turn their attention to “topics that are of special interest to me personally.” That’s the bottom line for the future of media.

Where do millions go for topics of real personal interest? The big action is online. And, within the online realm, increasingly (as we’ve seen from many other research reports as well) the big growth is in social media. At the moment, the major action in “social media” can be summed up in one word: Facebook.

But, here’s the key finding: More news is good for “us”

Overall, the study finds that more news and information dramatically improves our impressions of our communities. Rather than a cesspool of hate speech and stereotypes—our current ocean of media seems to be a positive experience for most Americans. Follow this new data, step by step, and you’ll see that’s a huge push toward building smarter online media—specifically online experiences that share news and information that can directly help people in their daily lives.

Or, to put it simply: Millions are looking for things that truly matter in their lives. Give them the news and information they want—and this actually strengthens our communities.

Consider these three conclusions as examples, directly from the report:

  • 69% of the Internet users said that Internet had made a major impact on their ability to learn new things.
  • 48% of the Internet users said that Internet had made a major impact on their ability to manage their health or the health of other members of their family.
  • 34% of the Internet users in the three communities said that Internet had made a major impact on their ability to participate in their community.

In the end, the overall conclusion of the new report is that greater access to news and information dramatically boosts Americans’ positive outlook on our communities.

How Might This Look in a Cross-Cultural Magazine?

Here’s an online series using these principles: Today, Monday 7, 2011, we’ve gone “LIVE” with OurLent, a 40-day online experience aimed at the world’s 2 billion Christians who are entering Lent together this year, East to West across the entire Christian church. This series is interconnected with our popular Holidays and Festivals column, which reports on the colorful traditions and customs associated with this season. Then, we also invite readers to share this entire experience via Facebook links from each story.

Want to read the entire Monitor / Pew report?

There’s a great deal of information in this report: The Monitor Institute / Pew Research Center study offers a 13-page PDF summarizing key findings, which you can download here.

We want our international conversation to continue

Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!

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