- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Political insiders turn to the old standby for updates, even in the age of blogs and cable news.

The traditional newspaper is the most popular “destination for political news,” according to “The State of the News Media 2007,” a 700-page report released yesterday by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

“People who love to follow the news, especially those who love politics, prefer newspapers over every other medium. Two-thirds (66 percent) of those who follow political news closely” get information regularly from newspapers, the analysis said, calling political junkies a “strategic advantage” for papers.

Indeed, newspapers bested broadcast networks (used regularly by 46 percent), Fox News (42 percent), CNN (36 percent), NPR (28 percent) and Rush Limbaugh (10 percent).

The report deemed political junkies as “a logical base for the newspaper’s future.”

Among respondents who said newspapers were declining in credibility, 28 percent blamed liberal bias — up from 19 percent in 1996.

Though regular newspaper readership has dropped 20 percent since 1992, there are still plenty of fans: 124 million Americans continue to peruse 1,452 newspapers nationwide, according to the Newspapers Association of America. When online and print readers are combined, the group found that the total newspaper audience actually rose by 8 percent last year. Meanwhile, 40 percent said their newspaper has improved in the last five years, crediting greater depth of coverage, a broader range of topics and better design.

The evolving variety and intensity of information delivery — print, broadcast and electronic combined — now poses strategic challenges for all news organizations, however.

“Journalism is becoming a smaller part of people’s information mix. The press is no longer the gatekeeper over what the public knows,” while journalists “are only now beginning to re-imagine their role,” the report said. Every sector of TV news lost audience members in 2006, it found.

“Only one media sector, the ethnic press, is still growing,” lead author Tom Rosenstiel said.

The number of Americans with positive views of the overall press dropped last year, falling from 59 percent in February to 48 percent by July. Among 20 major news organizations, few escaped a decline in credibility ratings: Only Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the “NewsHour” on PBS, People magazine, the National Enquirer and smaller local papers maintained the steady trust of readers and viewers.

In addition, an “argument culture” has given way to the “answer culture,” as news organizations aspire to offer solutions and order. Free-wheeling bloggers are now splintering into “elites and non-elites” as the online scribes divide over blogging standards and ethics.

The report is based on an analysis of multiple Pew Research Center surveys, news trends and industry statistics. The complete report can be seen online at www.stateofthemedia.org.

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