Mobile technology appears to be increasing the public appetite for news but it’s far from clear whether the news industry will profit from that, a study issued Monday concluded.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, in its annual state of the news media report, found encouraging signs within the 27 percent of Americans who say they get news on their smartphones or tablets.

A majority use a PC or other device as a source for news.

Key findings from Pew:

  • “The majority of Americans now get news through at least one digital, web-based device. While the desktop or laptop computer remains the primary digital platform for news (54% of Americans get news there), the number of consumers who get news on multiple digital devices is growing. Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults, 23%, now get news on at least two devices–a desktop/laptop computer and smartphone, a computer and a tablet, a tablet and a smartphone, or on all three.
  • “The most common way that people get news is by going directly to a news organization’s website or app. About a third of desktop/laptop news consumers and smartphone news consumers get news this way “very often.” Even more tablet news users, 38%, follow this path. On desktop/laptop computers, going to a news site directly is statistically tied with search (30%). Yet even these numbers may understate those seeking out news home pages. Previous PEJ studies have shown that many people who access news through search engines are typing in some variation of the home page name, not searching by topic across different news sources.
  • “Social media, while clearly a part of the digital news experience, is not nearly the driver of news that many have suggested. Just 9% of adults get news recommended to them from either Facebook or Twitter “very often” on at least one of the digital devices asked about here. Of the two networks, Facebook garners about twice as many news followers than Twitter. Still, though, the rapid growth is striking. As written about in the Digital chapter of this report [LINK] the percent of traffic that comes to news sites from social media platforms increased 57% since 2009.
  • “For those who get news on both the smartphone and tablet, social networking is a much more popular way to get news. Among that group (13% of all digital news consumers), fully two-thirds (67%) have ever gotten news recommendations from Facebook. That compares to 59% who get news on just one of those devices and 41% who only get digital news via the desktop/laptop. Similarly, 39% follow news recommendations on Twitter, compared with 24% who just use a smartphone or a tablet and 9% who use only the desktop/laptop.
  • “Consumers who still only get digital news on the desktop/laptop computer have a very different set of behaviors. This group is less likely to get news in any of the ways asked about in the survey than those who get some digital news on a smartphone, a tablet or both. Only about half (48%) get news using key word search “very or somewhat often” compared with at least 70% of those who use a smartphone, tablet or both for news. Similarly, 54% go directly to news websites or apps somewhat or very often, while 80% or more of those who get news on other devices do so.
  • “Commercial data tracking online usage reinforce the findings of this survey. Localytics shared its proprietary data with researchers involved in this study, and that information shows that people using mobile devices tend to spend more time with news on mobile devices than they do on computers. They go to news sites more often, spend more time per session and read more articles per session.”

These consumers are likely to seek out traditional news sites or applications, strengthening their bond with old newspaper or television news organizations. People with tablets tend to read longer articles and spend more time with news sites than they do on phones or desktop computers, said Tom Rosenstiel, Project for Excellence in Journalism director.

Many people already make it a habit to check their tablets before going to bed to see what is going to be in a newspaper the next day, he said.

Unique visits to online news sites jumped 17 percent from 2010 to 2011, similar to the increase from the year before, the report said.

“The demand for conventional journalism endures and in some ways is even growing,” Rosenstiel said. “There were many people that didn’t predict that. The content is still coming from traditional news companies.”

Yet technology companies, rather than news companies, are better set up to take advantage of online revenue opportunities. The report found that five companies – Microsoft, Google, Facebook, AOL and Yahoo! – generated 68 percent of digital ad revenue in 2011.

News companies are generally not as able to provide the specific consumer information that digital advertisers seek, and they certainly have not been as aggressive in this area as the technology companies, said media critic Jeff Jarvis, who writes the blog.

Jarvis also criticizes news organizations for not being more creative with their websites and applications, and not encouraging users to link information.

“I fear the iPad is a siren call to news organizations, seducing them into thinking they can maintain their old models and old controls, not just maintain but regain them,” he said.
For news organizations, “there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” said Roger Fidler, program director at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. “But it needs to be done very quickly.”

Rosenstiel noted the trend of technology companies working with news organizations on new ventures announced within the past year: Yahoo! reaching a deal to stream ABC News reports; YouTube launching original programming channels, including one operated by the news service Thomson Reuters; The Washington Post developing a news aggregator,, available through Facebook.

The Associated Press has begun providing some of its election coverage to the popular tablet app Flipboard, entered into a partnership with over use of celebrity photos and also worked with Twitter on release of Nevada Republican caucus results.

The PEJ report noted how social media is increasingly driving news, through people who pass along recommendations to read articles to their friends through Facebook and Twitter. Still, only 9 percent of adults say they follow such recommendations regularly, compared to 36 percent who say they go directly to a news organization’s app.

Most media sectors saw audience growth in 2011, with the exception of newspapers, the report said. The television network news audience grew for the first time in a decade and local stations also saw news growth in the late evening and early morning, the PEJ said.

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