Even The New York Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan reads the newspaper digitally first. “Certainly before I leave the house in the morning, I’ve gone to The Times website and given it a pretty good read,” she told The Atlantic Wire. “I see it on the web before I see it in print.”
Sullivan is part of a majority (55 percent) of The Times’ regular readers who now click or tap through the paper in web or app form more often than they thumb through it in print, according to a Pew survey published yesterday.
While The Times is presently the only one of America’s three highest-circulation newspapers to have passed the half-way point in its readers’ screenward migration, the nation’s two biggest dailies are close behind: 48 percent of regular USA Today readers claim to access the publication mostly in digital form (tied with 48 percent who lean toward print), and 44 percent of Wall Street Journal readers favour digital, compared with 54 percent who still mostly read the country’s highest-circulation daily in print.
Factor in USA Today’s recently updated range of digital products and The Wall Street Journal’s continued investment in (and success with) online video, and it seems plausible if not likely that ‘digital-mostly’ readers will overtake ‘print-mostly’ readers at all three titles the next time Pew conducts its biannual Media Consumption Survey in 2014.
The distance between "mostly" and "only," however, is wide. Pew found that Americans are still more than twice as likely to exclusively consult news on traditional platforms (encompassing newspapers, television and radio) than to rely exclusively on digital formats (computers, cell phones and tablets): 33 percent claimed to be "traditional-only" news consumers, while 12 percent were "digital-only." A greater proportion dabbles in both worlds: 38 percent said they consult a range of platforms in their daily lives.
In this sense, too, The New York Times reader’s representative is representative of her readers: after going through the paper’s digital version at home in the morning, she delves into print copies of both The Times and The Wall Street Journal once she arrives at work.
Nonetheless, the survey demonstrates that this habit is becoming less common, particularly among the younger generation. Across the board, 23 percent of Americans said that they had read a newspaper yesterday, down from 47 percent in 2000. In the 18-25 demographic, only 6 percent of respondents claimed to have come into contact with newsprint the day before. Twenty-eight percent of this demographic are digital-only consumers – up from 15 percent in 2010.
The story this survey tells is not new, but it is worth reiterating: the proportion of news consumers who take their words from a printed page every day is in steady decline. Even Sullivan is reading less in print than she used to; she now reads only two newspapers in hard copy where she used to read four. “It wasn’t really a conscious decision [to read more online],” she told Atlantic Wire. “It’s just the world I’m living in right now.”