TV Trounced Newspapers During Iraq War

By: Mark Fitzgerald

The boob tube clobbered newspapers in the battle for media supremacy fought during the Iraq war, a study by the Readership Institute (RI) concludes.

“By a large margin, TV won in Iraq — even in areas that papers expected to win,” RI Director John Lavine told publishers at the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) convention Tuesday. Readers rated the performance of television news during the Iraq war as the best news media in many areas. TV news was described as the media that was most complete, most accurate, most engaging, and that offered the best experts and greatest variety of viewpoints.

Television’s news triumph was among several preliminary conclusions from the study, which surveyed 1,550 people in 100 markets that were part of RI’s mammoth Impact study of readership begun in 2000. The study was planned before the war to test how readership was affected by a big event.

Perhaps the most surprising result was that people who were already “moderate” or “heavy” newspaper readers did not pick up a paper more frequently, spend more time reading it, or read more of the paper — the three factors that make up the RBS, or Reader Behavior Score, which RI measures on a scale of 1 to 7.

Readership by “light” and young readers did increase modestly, Lavine said, but he added these readers are unlikely to stick to this higher level of reading. “One thing that is clear is that even as light and young readers moved to the paper, they were not satisfied, compared to the levels of heavy and moderate readers,” he said.

The problem, Lavine told the NAA attendees, is that newspapers did not target light or young readers with their war coverage: “Many of you did a super job planning for the war, but you didn’t plan for light readers and their needs. You planned for the war like you covered it in the past.”

There was good news for newspapers in the study, however. Lavine noted that some of the increase in TV and Web viewership was directly attributable to newspapers, which provided both of those other media with content and journalists. The increase in newspaper use by light readers as well as young readers — one-third of whom already are heavy readers — shows that these users can be converted to heavier readers, he added.

Preliminary results of the study, as well as the lengthy questionnaire, will be available on RI’s Web site, www.readership.org.

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