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Americans Prefer News Online

A recent study claims that Americans flock online to read the news rather than subscribe to the local newspaper.

Is it a sign of the times? Will paper-based products finally give way to their digital counterparts? That's exactly what it sounds like according to results from a recent survey conducted by the Washington-based Pew Research Center. Many Americans flock to the Internet to read national and international news, but believe it or not, they actually prefer getting the information from television.

Over the past year, 40 percent of the 1,489 people surveyed said that online resources provide their news content, whereas only 35 percent of those surveyed still use the local newspaper as their primary source of news. A whopping 70 percent claim television is their main source of national and international news; 59 percent younger than 30 actually prefer the visual medium.

While newspapers have seen a decline in subscriptions over the past year, the recent economic plunge has caused publishers to cut jobs and even alter the publication itself to save money. The New York Times is currently over one billion dollars in debt, reportedly cutting 530 jobs and closing its City&Suburban unit (story). The paper is also considering selling off parts of the company in order to stay afloat.

The Christian Science Monitor, founded in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy, has abandoned its daily paper-based print altogether beginning next year, cutting back its publication to one paper a week and providing news for free online. Although the paper may end up cutting jobs, it believes that an online presence "is where the growth is." That rings true with many Internet subscribers, especially for those who "read on the go" using laptops and Internet-based mobile phones.

But providing news solely online isn't a walk in the park, especially for larger publications who depend on print editions for 90 percent of their revenue. Still, with subscriptions dropping and advertising revenue taking a huge plunge, print publishers are scrambling to stay in business, to keep the presses running. As it stands, online services offering news for free only hurts the print publications; how can they compete?

Sree Sreenivasan, a new media professor at Columbia Journalism School in New York, brings up a good point. "Keep in mind that most online news people read still uses a lot of newspaper-sourced copy that has been put on line. It's still a lot of traditional media that's feeding this."

Still, sales of U.S. papers have dropped 4.6 percent since the beginning of 2008. Tribune, one of the nation's biggest publishers (which owns the Los Angeles Times among others), filed for bankruptcy this month, unable to pay off its $13 billion dollar debt. The outlook certainly does not look good for print news media, with "advertising dollars being replaced by digital pennies," states Sreenivasan.

Perhaps the best answer is to abandon print and offer news online, but only do so through a subscription-based service. But that means other popular outlets - such as Google, Yahoo and even MSN - would have to comply and restrict access to news in the same manner. Until that happens, local presses -while a virtual in every sense- will not be able to stay afloat in a world where news flows freely online in every direction.

The thought of a failing print industry is a depressing one. Newspapers have been around hundreds of years, and are part of the American culture. While the digital age has taken over most of the American households, citizens should open their eyes and see that a cherished American pastime is quickly fading away for good.