News that makes me (look) smarter

In reading a new study about how people find out about news these days,  I was reminded of another report issued almost seven years ago offering newspapers advice for how to strengthen their ties with readers.  A key motivator for reading the paper was to “make me smarter,” which I always thought should have been “make me look smarter to other people.”

After all, who wants to sit smugly in the corner, secure in the solitary knowledge of your superior news IQ?  You want to tell people what you know!  You want to tell them that a tsunami is heading for Hawaii, or that your hometown is the second-fattest city in America, or that Prince just added new dates to his concert tour (I have told people all of these things).

This ties into another one of the report’s “motivators,” which was giving readers “something to talk about.”  Now this is closer to the mark, although I think it’s about more than simply talking.  It’s really about sharing information in the hope of generating reaction and interaction.

This was good advice, but the trouble was that newspapers didn’t have easy ways to enable this kind of activity.  But Facebook does, and Twitter does, and email has always been good at it.  And we see the impact documented in Pew Internet’s striking new study, “Understanding the Participatory News Consumer.”

“…News, especially on the Internet, is becoming a shared social experience as people swap links in emails, post news stories on their social networking site feeds, highlight news stories in their tweets and haggle over the meaning of events in discussion threads,” the report notes.

The Pew study sheds light on the recent news that Facebook now drives more traffic to key sites than Google.  A few relevant stats:

  • 75% of online news consumers say they get news forwarded through email or posts on social networking sites and 52% say they share links to news via those same means.
  • 37% of internet users actively take part in creating and distributing news through activities such as posting links to news articles, tagging content or creating content such as a blog post or a video.
  • 50% said they rely to some degree on people around them to tell them the news they need to know.
  • Across the board,  younger you are, the more social you are in your news preferences.

So what is the take-away here for content creators, from news organizations to social change advocates to bloggers with good ideas?  First, understand that the social experience around news is not going away because the inherent social motivation of human beings is not going away.  And then shift your priorities accordingly.  Instead of spending all your time creating content, invest some of your resources in making your content easy to share and do more sharing, yourself.  Spend time building your own social network and tapping into the social networks of others.  Because if you’re not visible in social networks, you risk becoming invisible in the digital world.



  1. March 2, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    Great piece, ML! It reminds me of another recent report that stated about 25% of people are getting their news from phones… and what’s on the phones? Facebook, twitter, myspace apps… and new sites apps that have features, allowing people to share what they find on news via their facebook/twitter profiles, emails and more. This semester, a lot of my media students are exploring twitter and some have found that it is becoming an easier avenue for them to find out what’s going with through friends and people they like to follow and they in turn share reactions or pass it on to others.

  2. March 3, 2010 at 12:21 am

    Thanks Olivia! This report may be the one you referenced, although the number Pew cites is even higher with 33% of cell phone owners getting news on their phones. It was a bit odd that Pew overlooked the point you made, which is that mobile *is* social! I would bet my iPhone that social apps get huge usage on mobile devices.

  3. March 29, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    […] is THE driving force in media today.  If you are not taking part in social networks, then you risk being invisible.   Recommended reading on this topic is Pew’s Understanding the Participatory News […]

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