Internet News Tops All Other Media Channels Combined

Last Updated Jun 28, 2009 6:15 PM EDT

According to a poll released earlier this month, more American adults now consider the Internet their favorite (and most reliable) source for news than television, radio, and newspapers combined. Here is the breakdown:
  • Internet 56 percent
  • Television 21 percent
  • Newspapers 10 percent
  • Radio 10 percent
The remainder apparently fell into that odd category of "Other/not sure." I've never conducted a poll myself, but I'm guessing this group was probably not sure what the question was, either.

Anyway, the poll, which was conducted by Zogby, also had a foward-looking component, and this is where it became quite revealing. Five years from now, respondents ranked the importance of these channels as follows: 84 percent think it will be the Internet, 13 percent TV, and a microscopic 0.5 percent said newspapers. (Radio appears to be disappearing from the public's consciousness as well, since as far as I can tell, five years from now it is down there with the "Other/not sure" folks.

According to a Reuters report on the poll, there's a political angle as well. Whereas 17 percent of Democrats said if they had a choice they would pick newspapers as their source of news, only 5 percent of Republicans felt this way. Could this be evidence of the widespread belief on the right of a built-in liberal bias in the press? If that is true than why would conservatives care if newspapers die?

On the other hand, maybe liberals are the true conservatives when it comes to change, eh? Technological change is not a choice, but an imperative. In my interviews and discussions with people about the ways in which the media industry is changing, I sense much more anxiety on the left than on the right about this.

Still, when it comes to the precise sites on the Internet that Americans want to get their news from, the traditional news brands still score well. According to one summary of the poll by Liz Webber, "Nearly half said the web sites of national newspapers are important and 43 percent said the same for national TV sites. Internet-only operations fared much worse. Less than 30 percent stated that blogs that shared their political views were important, and just 14 percent said the same for blogs with the opposite political view."

This, of course, validates what many of us have been saying for years now -- that media brands retain much of their power in the evolving new channels over which news is traveling, if only they would go with the (news) flow. It's not journalism that is dying; it's just a worn-out buisness model.

Webber continues: "And social networking sites? Forget it. Ten percent of adults named Facebook as an important source of news, and a mere 4% said the same of Twitter."

(Note: At the time this poll was conducted only 5 percent of Americans had even tried Twitter, so a more perceptive interpretation of the data would have been that 80 percent of those who had already recognized its value as a powerful news source!)
So here's where I beg to disagree. This poll was conducted well before the events of the past week, when virtually the entire universe of news junkies, including most journalists, turned to social media to follow the unfolding drama in Iran. Those who dismiss social media as simply the latest fad, simply a "tool" for people or journalists to use, are missing one of the pivotal moments in how the media industry -- and more importantly global society -- are being transformed before our eyes.

The point is that until last weekend, no rebellion, however just, could have eluded a crackdown by an authoritarian state like that of the so-called "Islamic Republic." The Iranians waging this populist revolution may have wished to do so for a long time, but until social media gave them the means to communicate with supporters around the world in real-time, they would have failed.

So, while the other parts of the Zogby poll are useful as we seek to understand how public attitudes and behavior are changing regarding the media industry, the parts about social media are absolutely worthless. The next poll, by any reputable pollster, will reveal vastly different results.
  • David Weir

    David Weir is a veteran journalist who has worked at Rolling Stone, California, Mother Jones, Business 2.0, SunDance, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, MyWire, 7x7, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, which he cofounded in 1977. He’s also been a content executive at KQED, Wired Digital, Salon.com, and Excite@Home. David has published hundreds of articles and three books,including "Raising Hell: How the Center for Investigative Reporting Gets Its Story," and has been teaching journalism for more than 20 years at U.C. Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and Stanford.

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