Study: Newspapers Sink Below Internet and TV as Information Sources

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Newspapers continue to be seen as less important at their primary job — being sources of information – according to the latest edition of the nine-year-old Digital Future Project from the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism.

The study found that just 56% Internet users ranked newspapers as  important or very important sources of information for them, down from 60% in 2008 —  and below the Internet (78%) and television (68%).

And while newspapers also regard themselves as being  in the entertainment business, just 29% of users consider them as important sources of entertainment, down from 32% two years ago, and last among principal media.

The University of Southern California study, which has tracked a representative sample of Internet users and nonusers over nine years, found that this year 18% of Internet users said they stopped a subscription to a newspaper or  magazine because they now get the same or related content online. The study notes that down from 22% who said that in 2008, “but nevertheless a strong indication that print newspapers can be sacrificed by a significant  percentage of Internet users.”

If their newspaper dropped its print edition, Internet users say, 59% said they would read the online edition of the  publication while just 37% said they would start reading another print newspaper.

More than a fifth of respondents said they would not miss the printed newspaper.

“The downward spiral in print newspaper circulation no doubt will be accelerated by  advances in online delivery of news content through e-readers or other handheld electronic devices,” Jeffrey I. Cole, director of  the school’s Center for the Digital Future, said in a statement. “After years of aborted attempts, these advances finally appear to be practical and  affordable methods of providing electronic news content to readers.  If so, what will that mean for  the future of the traditional print newspaper?”

If Internet users are increasingly indifferent to newspapers, they maintain a love/hate relationship with the Internet. Mistrust of the Web is growing, according to this latest study.

Some 61% of Internet users said that only half or less of online information is reliable, which the project said was a new low.

“Even more disturbing is that 14% of Internet users said that only a small portion or  none of the information online is reliable – a percentage that has grown for the past three years and  is now at the highest level thus far in the Digital Future Project,” the study said.   

Users are increasingly skeptical even of well-established search engines such as Google and Yahoo. Back in 2006, 64% users told the study they believe that most or all of the information provided by search engines was reliable and accurate. The current percentage if 56%.

The study also found it’s not just newspapers that face online pay problems. Half of Internet users reported they have used microblogs such as Twitter. But when asked if they would pay for Twitter, nobody said they would.

“Such an extreme finding that produced a zero response underscores the difficulty of getting  Internet users to pay for anything that they already receive for free,” Cole said. “Twitter has no plans to charge its users, but this result illustrates, beyond any doubt, the  tremendous problem of transforming free users into paying users.”

Fully 70% of Internet users said they find online advertising “annoying,” and half said they never click on Web advertising.

But more than half, 55%, said they would rather put up with Web advertising than pay for content.

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