Newspapers' tough times appear to have spurred the industry to adopt the kind of social media habits that have led so many readers away from the traditional news format. In The Bivings Group's annual look at how newspapers use the internet, the researcher found that 58 percent of dailies offered some form of user-generated content this past year. That's more than double the 24 percent of papers that had user-gen features in 2007. Other finding's from Bivings' report (PDF):
—The number of papers who opened up stories to user comments also more than doubled in the last year to 75 percent in 2007 versus just 33 percent the year before.
—Newspapers are still a little slow on other ordinary aspects of social media. For example, just 10 percent of newspapers had social networking tools, such as user profiles and the ability to "friend" other users, built into their sites in 2008. Only five percent of newspapers had such features in 2007. It is surprising that this number isn't higher and demonstrates lingering reluctance on the part of papers to fully embrace social media.
—The number of websites requiring registration to view most content (free or paid) fell from 2007. Now only 11 percent of websites require registration to view full articles, compared to 29 percent in 2007 and 23 percent the year before.
—A separate study from Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society offers a survey (PDF) of how the news is being covered by reporters, bloggers and citizen journalists. The study finds a lot to be positive about when it comes to the "participatory nature" of blogging and citizen-j. But in its "and on the other hand" conclusion, authors Persephone Miel and Robert Faris also offer some hand-wringing over the void that has been left between the decimated ranks of mainstream media on one side and the narrow focus of digital media on the other.