- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Americans now possess more choices in consuming current events than ever. These transformations represent big shifts not only for consumers but also for advertisers and advocacy organizations attempting to shape public opinion using these mediums.

Media fragmentation represents one of the most significant trends in American life. We are awash in a sea of cable and satellite channels, Internet portals and publications — not to mention new radio and newspaper choices. The panoply of new options shapes how we perceive and interact with the world around us in dramatic ways. News consumption habits and behaviors are not sheltered from the waves of change.

For those trying to influence voter attitudes, the sheer number of new communication channels is daunting. In what might be termed a hyper-media age, it’s difficult to break through the din of multiple voices in TV, radio, print and the Internet. In this cacophony, it’s not clear that mere words matter in the same way. While he was no media strategist, the late Red Auerbach, former Boston Celtics coach said it well: “What you say is not as important as what people hear.” His words have never been truer.

I recently examined these new media consumption habits and found some interesting results. The American National Election Studies series, now sponsored jointly by the University of Michigan and Stanford University, produces large regular surveys going back to 1948. Their data are available for secondary analysis by researchers and are the source of the analysis presented below. Their most recent study, conducted after the 2006 elections (Nov. 13-Jan. 7), asked some questions about a new generation of media use. Some of the results might surprise you.

The survey queried people about how many days a week they received their news from television, newspapers, radio or the Internet. I recoded the data to compare those who received at least some of their news from one of these sources and compared them to those who said they did not consume any news through a particular medium during a typical week.

Television leads the pack, with 94 percent saying they use TV as a news source at least one day a week. Newspapers are next at 76 percent. Interestingly, the Internet now rivals radio as a source Americans use for news at least once a week. Fifty percent said they received news from the Internet one day a week or more, while 56 percent said the same about radio. And while I cannot confirm this, it is reasonable to assume the Internet experienced the fastest growth rate in the past 10 years.

But who uses these various sources of news information is even more interesting. Analyzing media consumption by party provides a surprising result. While conventional wisdom suggests Democrats dominate the Internet as a communication and fund-raising tool, a significantly higher percentage of Republicans actually use this medium as a source of news. This is even more interesting since virtually no party differences exist in utilization of TV, radio or newspaper.

A similar pattern exists on gender. Virtually no differences emerge on sources of weekly news consumption between men and women when it comes to TV and newspapers. The biggest difference emerges with the Internet as a news source. Men (61 percent) are significantly more likely than women (40 percent) to use the Internet as a source for at least some of their news on a weekly basis.

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman used to say we now live in a world with a wealth of information and a poverty of attention. These data provide some clues about where the smart money should try to leverage better listening.


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