A new report released by the Pew Internet and American Life Project suggests that news has evolved from a consumable product to a participatory experience. Technology has not only changed how, where and when people get their news, but now allows the consumer to tag, share, comment on and even create news.

The major findings from the report, "Understanding the Participatory News Consumer," seem to be that the Internet has surpassed print and radio as popular news sources, and that social media is becoming increasingly important in the dissemination of news. Not exactly earth-shaking results, but search almost any major news outlet and you'll find them - what remains to be seen is whether these organizations simply report the findings or actually use them to improve their business models.

I decided to sift through the report and found a few tidbits that were interesting to me, a science journalist, that had been left out of many articles published by major news outlets. Interestingly, these are the organizations that have recently laid off science writers or shut down their science desks.

When asked what types of news subjects they follow online, 66 percent of Internet news users said that they follow health and medicine and 60 percent follow science and technology. When asked what types of news they would like to receive more coverage, 44 percent said scientific news and discoveries, which got more votes than any other subject.

It's probably important to note that technology is separated from the "scientific news and discoveries" category. 62 percent of all news users are satisfied with the amount of technology news, while just 33 percent want to see more coverage of new kinds of technology.

Young adults are the most likely to express interest in additional science news: 52 percent of 18-29 year-olds compared with 41 percent of 50-64 year-olds and 34 percent of those 65 and older. Also, 48 percent of users who gather their news from at least four different platforms on any given day (i.e. radio, local or national TV, local or national newspapers, online) are interested in receiving more science news.

Only 39 percent of news consumers say that health and medicine coverage is lacking, but half of African-American respondents feel this way and non-Internet users express this sentiment more than Internet users. Finally, Independents - America's largest political group - are more likely than both Democrats and Republicans to want more science coverage.

But it's not enough to know that these groups simply want more science news - we need to understand how and where they are most likely to consume it. Because the largest group of science news seekers are the youngest segment of the news consuming population, regardless of other demographic information like race or political affiliation, I've decided to concentrate on the habits of 18-29 year-olds.

This is also an important subset to consider, because, well, to put it delicately, they are going to be around a lot longer than older news consumers and they represent the next generation of disposable-income eyeballs that advertisers are going to have to cater to. Paying attention to the preferences and needs of this audience will (hopefully) help increase revenue and, in turn, resurrect staff positions for serious, investigative science reporting.

Unfortunately, only 35 percent of 18-29 year-olds say they follow the news all or most of the time. But this is because they are less likely to be traditional news "hunter-gatherers" and are more inclined to "serendipitous" encounters with news - that is, they rely on news to find them, whether through email, social media or alerts forwarded to their cell phones or other mobile devices. In fact, 18-32 year-olds are twice as likely as baby boomers to rely on social networks like Facebook or Twitter to alert them to news stories.

While 18-29 year-olds represent less than a quarter of the overall adult population in the U.S., they represent nearly a third of online news users, 32 percent of wireless internet users and 39 percent of "on-the-go" news consumers (who receive their news on mobile devices). They are also more likely than the average online news user to:
  • use a news aggregate site like Google News or Topix
  • visit websites of national TV news stations like CNN or FoxNews, or "specialty" websites that focus specifically on topics like science or politics
  • follow individuals and organizations (both media and non-media) on social network sites
  • read individual blogs
  • receive Twitter updates from individuals and organizations (both media and non-media)
Older news consumers also turn to the Internet for their news, but tend to use it as a secondary outlet for more traditional news sources, such as websites for local newspapers or national radio programs. In other words, older users get news from the Internet that they can also get offline, while younger users prefer online-exclusive content and/or platforms. Similarly, 18-29 year-olds are more likely than the average online user to value:
  • stories with links to related material
  • multimedia and interactive content
  • the ability to share a story through email or social network sites
  • the option to customize their homepages or news sites to receive news on topics they find the most interesting
  • following a journalist or organization on Facebook or Twitter
  • the opportunity to comment on news content
That last point brings up another interesting statistic: news "participators" (those that comment, share or create) tend to care more about any subject than passive news consumers, but disproportionately say they would like to see more news about science, technology, health and medicine. (77 percent of participators want more health and medicine coverage, compared with 65 percent of non-participators; 74 percent versus 56 percent would like to see more science and technology news.)

So not only is there a demand for more science coverage, there is a desire by news consumers to be a part of the conversation. Perhaps having the option to comment, ask questions, or critique the reporting actually draws more readers to the content and holds the journalist more accountable for the information she provides. It might also give news organizations insight into which topics their readers find the most interesting.

So to the media outlets who have justified cutting their science coverage by claiming that science news audiences are dwindling, don't care, don't understand or don't generate revenue, perhaps you should reconsider. Instead of repackaging embargoed research press releases in an attempt to drive meaningless traffic to your site and calling it science coverage, spend a little more time figuring out how to present science news in a way that engages your young readers and keeps them coming back for more.