First Amendment Center Survey: Newspapers a Distant Fourth as America's News Source

By: E&P Staff Americans still turn to mainstream media to get their news -- but that doesn't mean newspapers are anywhere near their primary source, a survey released Wednesday finds.

Television is far and away the principal medium Americans use to learn about and follow major news stories, according to the 2009 State of the First Amendment national survey conducted by the First Amendment Center.

TV was the first source for news for nearly half -- 49% -- of the survey respondents. Far behind were Internet, the first source for 15%; radio at 13% -- and then newspapers at 10%.

And while newspapers position themselves as the in-depth medium to follow up on stories, TV still dominates when Americans went next-day stories. Some 48% of Americans polled said TV is their primary source for follow-up reports, with the Internet next at 29%, and newspapers well behind at 9%.

For all the talk about new social media, E-mail, Facebook, Twitter and similar sites were each named by just 1% of respondents as their primary source of news.

Twitter, in fact, isn't making much of an impression on most Americans, according to the survey. Nearly half of those surveyed said they didn't know enough about Twitter to have any opinion. And just 3% of those who did have an opinion on the social networking medium said it was a "very reliable source of news." Twitter was considered "somewhat reliable" by 14%, "not too reliable" by 13%, and "not reliable at all" by 21%.

Among the other findings of the First Amendment Center survey were warm feelings for the press' watchdog role -- but skepticism about its ability to be "fair and balanced."

Seven of 10 respondents said a free press is a necessary "watchdog on government," but 49% also "strongly disagreed" with the statement that the news media reports the news without bias.

The First Amendment contains just 45 words, but Americans haven't exactly memorized them. While 55% could identify freedom of speech as one of the five rights guaranteed by the amendment, less than 20% named freedom of religion, press and assembly as among the rights.

Only 4% identified the right to petition the government as one of the five freedoms.

The national survey of 1,003 respondents was conducted by telephone by the PERT Group between July 25 and Aug. 3. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.2%.

The First Amendment 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.


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