The news about news media.

Part 3: digital news – hot, but not as hot as you might think.

Our last two articles examined print and electronic news media. Print is falling fast. Both newspapers and news magazines are losing readers and advertisers in significant numbers. Electronic is a mixed picture. Network and local TV news are hurting, but cable news networks and news talk radio are holding their own.

So if the traditional news media are stagnant at best and headed down the tubes in a couple of cases, digital must be the hot news medium for advertisers, right? Yes and no. Mostly no.

The main reason why it's mostly "no" is that online news media haven't proven to be effective advertising vehicles.

Embedded rich media ads can work in online news media. But people go to news sites for news, and embedded ads are easy to ignore. It's not like electronic media, in which the content the viewer or listener wants is interspersed with commercials. Online, the content and commercials are available simultaneously, and content usually wins.

Studies have shown that commercials which are watched online are as effective as commercials which are watched on TV. But commercials are watched much less frequently online than on the tube or flat panel.

So there's a problem with switching the news media budget to online. But there are some important trends on the positive side of the equation, too.

A March, 2008 WeMedia/Zogby Interactive online poll found that online has eclipsed traditional news media as the primary source of news for internet users.

--The internet was the primary source of news for 48% of respondents.

--Television was the primary source of news for 29%. (The survey did not differentiate between broadcast and cable or between national and local.)

--Radio was the primary source of news for 11%. (The survey did not differentiate between terrestrial, satellite and internet radio.)

--Ink-on-paper newspaper was the primary source of news for 10%.

--No word on where the other 2% got their news.

There was a significant year-to-year increase in the percentage of respondents who cite online as their primary source of news. In 2007 the number was 40%. That grew by one-fifth – to 48% – in 2008.

Not surprisingly, 55% of respondents 18 to 29 said the internet is their primary source of news.

Somewhat surprisingly, 35% of those over 65 cited the internet as their primary news source, second only to television among the senior set.

But this was an online survey. By definition, only internet users could participate. So that 35% is among the 37% of 65-and-older people who are online. It works out to just 13% of the total 65-and-older group.

In the May, 2008 Nielsen study of news media – which surveyed a sample representative of the entire adult population, not just internet users – the internet was third, after broadcast TV news. The study didn't differentiate between national and local broadcasters and cable TV news networks. In this more representative study, internet was the primary news source for only 13.1% of respondents. Still more than newspapers and radio, but a far cry from the Zogby study's 48%.

Either way, online news is a significant part of the equation.