A Quarter of Americans Get News on Cell Phones

cell phone weather applicationTwenty-six percent of Americans now get news via their cell phones, according to a Pew Research poll of 2,259 people taken between Dec. 28 and Jan. 19. The study shows that 43% of people under age 50 consume news on handsets, compared with 15% of people over that age, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, which obtained an advance copy of the data. The top categories of news accessed by wireless handset are weather at 72% and current events at 69%.This research is another reminder the massive problems American media face. ABC News will cut several hundred positions this month, and major newspapers are still reducing staff as their circulations plummet. The ABC layoffs show that it's nearly impossible to keep a large news staff at a traditional news organization. The TV audience is dropping fast, and along with it advertising rates.

ABC News has a website and an Apple (AAPL) iPhone app, but advertising through these outlets isn't enough to support the cost of traditional newsrooms. Many magazines are preparing products for the new Apple iPad tablet computer, but it's not clear that the iPad will sell well, or how publishers will charge advertisers on the new platform.

The rise in accessing news through cell phones is another reason that some large media companies like News Corp. (NWS) want to erect pay walls around their most-expensive-to-produce content. The Wall Street Journal won't be free online, on cell phones or in its traditional paper form. That leaves open the issue of how much the Journal will be hurt by the availability of free financial content on wireless handsets.

The earliest enemy of traditional paid or ad-supported content was the PC-based Internet. Now premium-content companies have to battle people's wireless handset habits as well.

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