Tally’s In: More Voters Log On

Television may still be the king of America’s information kingdom, but the Internet is the crown prince. Research shows that more Americans are logging on to the Internet for their primary source of political news, while shunning traditional media outlets like newspapers and radio.

According to a telephone-based survey from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, and the Pew Internet and American Life Project, Americans’ news habits have changed drastically since the 1996 presidential election. Since then, the number of voters looking to alternative media for political information increased sixfold.

In 1996, only 3 percent of the survey’s respondents said the Internet was one of their two primary sources for campaign news. In 2004, that number jumped to 18 percent, according to the study.

Television remained the dominant option for most voters and also enjoyed an increase in viewers, albeit a comparatively modest one, moving to 78 percent from 72 percent in 1996. But the most dramatic change recorded is that the use of newspapers plunged from 60 percent to 39 percent.

“Many more people used the Internet as it has matured,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “They have stopped treating it like a novelty. Now it’s used for real political discourse.”

Radio came in at a faltering third place, with 17 percent of voters calling it their source for news.

Politicos are keen on the numbers.

In the latest example of the growing influence of Internet and Web-based media such as blogs, the White House has issued its first ever oval office press pass to a blogger.

Garrett M. Graff, 23, who writes a blog on the Washington D.C.
media, is believed to be the first the first blogger given a daily White House pass.

“The news channels are merging,” said Rainie, who believes media outlets will take on much more multi-dimensional characteristics in the future. “The next campaign we will see a merger of mediums.”

Rainie also said it was likely that newspapers will stop thinking of themselves as being in the “newspaper business” but rather the news business. Most already provide an online option for their work, he said, and will eventually provide podcasts, video or whatever method its readership would like to use in order to receive news.

The latest numbers don’t provide complete validation for those who
believe the Internet and blogging are replacing newspapers and large
organizations as the primary source for news.

Although the influence of newspapers took a nosedive, 43 percent of Americans still preferred to get the news over the Internet from major news organizations like The New York Times and CNN. The numbers for Internet-only resources was much more modest at 24 percent.

“It is really about convenience,” Rainie said.

The study also found that broadband users were more likely to hop on the Internet for political news, 38 percent, than others.

Forty percent of Internet users said the Web played an important roll in helping them decide who to vote for.

The nonpartisan Pew Internet and American Life Project surveyed 2,200 U.S.-based adults between November 4 and November 24, 2004 for the survey.

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