Another day, another media study with what, on the surface, appear to be unkind numbers. I don’t have access to the Belden Associates study itself, but Media Life Magazine is reporting:

Belden Associates, a newspaper research firm, reports that just 37 percent of newspaper site users are regular visitors, and only 27 percent visit daily.

In its study, Belden also found that newspaper site audiences have aged five years over the past five years, even though overall newspapers’ online audience continues to grow. That, says Greg Harmon, Belden’s director for interactive, “is pointing to the fact that newspaper web sites are drawing people who are already newspaper readers.”

This may be one of those studies that means something in aggregate but not much in the detail. For instance, there are any number of newspaper websites I visit in a day, but I don’t register for most of them (I actually skip any newspaper that forces me to register), so while they can track my incoming address and my visits, they know nothing about my age.

As interesting as the numbers seem (and the one about an aging online newspaper readership really is interesting) I would be more interested in seeing a different set of numbers: local visit numbers for local newspapers. Putting together an overall number means mixing readership of the NY Times web site, which offers plenty of reasons to visit, with some local shovelware sites, which offer none.

I suspect there’s a lot more going on out there than a study like this can capture. How many readers have turned not to their local newspaper’s web site to scan the news but to Google or Yahoo, for instance.

My newspaper consumption has actually gone up since I stopped reading dead tree editions. Between my Bloglines account and surfing, I visit 10 newspaper websites at least once a day, and there are probably another five or six I wind up visiting in an average day’s surfing, as the result of links in blogs, Google searches, etc. That compares to the two newspapers I used to read a day. I’m not an average internet user or news consumer, but I don’t think I’m unique, either.

So, while the Belkin Associates study has some interest, I don’t think I’ll be tearing my hair about low readership numbers and an aging readership quite yet.