Traditional news media still 1st source on big stories
WASHINGTON — Americans still support the idea of a free press as a watchdog on government, and turn to traditional news sources on major news stories despite skepticism about bias in the news media, according to findings in the first segment of the 2009 State of the First Amendment national survey conducted by the First Amendment Center.
While new innovations such as Twitter have attracted users and headlines, television and other traditional news media remain the dominant source for Americans on major new stories, the survey found.
Television was the first source for major news stories for about half of all responding (49%), followed by the Internet at 15%, radio at 13% and newspapers at 10% – which places traditional news media (TV, radio and newspapers) as the first source for 72% of Americans. Twitter, e-mails and social-networking sites each were named by 1% of those responding.
Similarly, for 48% of Americans TV is the primary source for followup reports on those news stories, followed by the Internet at 29% and newspapers at 9%.
As the nation observes Constitution Day on Thursday, Sept. 17, this first segment of the State of the First Amendment 2009 survey reports how Americans view their First Amendment freedoms, as well as the reach and credibility of emerging news media. Additional segments this year will survey public opinion on specific First Amendment issues.
“The findings in this first segment of the 2009 survey suggest that while new forms of obtaining information, including Twitter and social media, are much discussed and growing in use, most Americans continue to rely on the same news organizations — including the news reports picked up by online news providers — on which they have relied for decades,” said Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center. “Clearly, emerging media are novel and are finding an audience, but there still is room for growth on the credibility side.”
The first segment of the 2009 survey was conducted by telephone by the PERT Group (formerly New England Survey Associates), and directed by University of Connecticut Professor Kenneth Dautrich. The national survey of 1,003 respondents was conducted by telephone between July 25 and Aug. 3, 2009. The sampling error is +/-3.2%. There is only one chance in 20 that the results of a survey this size would differ by more than 3.2 percentage points in either direction. The sampling error for sub-groups is larger.
The PERT Group is headquartered in Bloomfield, Conn., with offices in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, and personnel in Stamford, Conn., Caldwell, N.J., and Philadelphia.
The First Amendment Center works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, and the rights to assemble and to petition the government.
The center, with offices at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C., is an operating program of the Freedom Forum and is associated with the Newseum.
First Amendment Center experts are available to discuss the State of the First Amendment 2009 survey and other religious-liberty and free-expression issues, at 615/727-1600.
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The First Amendment Center is an educational organization and cannot provide legal advice.
Ken Paulson is president of the First Amendment Center and dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University. He is also the former editor-in-chief of USA Today.
Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute, also is senior vice president of the First Amendment Center, a center of the institute. He is a veteran journalist whose career has included work in newspapers, radio, television and online.
John Seigenthaler founded the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center in 1991 with the mission of creating national discussion, dialogue and debate about First Amendment rights and values.
Dr. Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum Institute.. He writes and speaks extensively on religious liberty and religion in American public life.
David L. Hudson Jr. is an expert in First Amendment issues and a regular contributor to the First Amendment Center's website. Hudson teaches law and was a scholar at the First Amendment Center.