- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2008

News-hungry Americans are yielding to the siren call of cyberspace: Almost half of us say that the Internet is now our primary source of news and information, trumping television, radio and newspapers, according to a Zogby Interactive poll released yesterday.

The survey found that 48 percent went online for enlightenment. About 29 percent looked to television and 11 percent went to radio. With just 10 percent of the audience, newspapers were in last place.

Majorities had praise for their online experience: 86 percent cited the Web as an “important source” of information. About 77 percent said that so-called citizen journalism has a “vital role” in journalism’s future; 55 percent said the same about blogging. But the numbers also reveal an increasingly discerning side of news consumers: Only 1 percent said that blogs were either the most trusted source of news or their primary source of news.

The public has yet to abandon its relationship with the mainstream press: 87 percent say “professional journalism” is also vital to the mix. Seven out of 10 say that newspapers, television and radio remain important sources; the number was only 38 percent for blogs.

Still, the longtime relationship between Americans and the press appears to be a contentious work in progress.

The survey also found that 70 percent of us think journalism is “important to the quality of life in their communities.” Yet two-thirds are dissatisfied with the quality of journalism, while 67 percent agreed that “traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news.”

Some were more annoyed than others: 79 percent of Republicans were disenchanted with conventional journalism; the number was 89 percent among the “very conservative.”

Even as traditional news organizations hope to appease a technologically savvy public with interactive “cross-platform” outreaches, the nation distrusts the corporate power behind it. Seven out of 10 respondents said that media companies are too large and powerful to allow for meaningful competition in the marketplace.

It’s a genuine crisis — and not without drama, said Andrew Nachison of IFocos, a Virginia-based media research group.

“While the U.S. news industry sheds expenses and frets about its future, Americans are dismayed by its present,” he said. “The challenge for traditional news companies is complex. They need to invest in new products and services — and they have. But they’ve also got to invest in quality, influence and impact. They need to invest in journalism that makes a difference in people’s lives. That’s a moral and leadership challenge, and a business opportunity for whoever can meet it.”

Yet some question the very roots of the findings.

“Granted, people will say it’s convenient and immediate to get their news via the Internet. But what is the real source of that news? A person may be online, but that content — that information — may have originated with the Associated Press or a newspaper,” said S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs and the Statistical Assessment Service, a polling watchdog group.

“It’s the source that counts, not the delivery system. Blogging is the only true content which originates online — and only 1 percent of this group say they rely on blogs,” he added.

The survey of 1,979 adults was conducted online Feb. 20 and 21, with a margin of error of two percentage points.

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