for online news
Americans rely on web for more and more info
By Marty Beard
In the crusty and often snobbish newsrooms of American newspapers in particular, online news sites tend to be held in low regard, sharing the nether reaches with radio and TV news.
But this is not the case with the consumer of news, the American public.
According to a recent study from the Online News Association, Americans have come to embrace the internet as a reliable source of news, although for now it remains supplementary to news from other media.
"The internet isnít necessarily replacing other media forms, whether print newspapers or broadcast," says Online News Association president Bruce Koon, who is also executive news editor at Knight-Ridder Digital.
"But people are accustomed to it and they think of it as a news source."
In addition to polling 1,000 online news consumers for their opinions on online news, the ONA polled 1,300 journalists. And it turns out that thereís a disconnect between public opinion and journalistsí on the veracity of online news sources, with journalists continuing to question the trustworthiness of online news sites.
But for consumers credibility is a non-issue.
Fully 13 percent of consumers report that the internet is their most trusted source of news. Forty-three percent say itís not their most trusted source of news; the remainder had no opinion.
Still, in terms of general news consumption, people are continuing to turn to traditional media first, with local television being the top source. People look to local radio 6.5 times a week and to local TV six times a week.
In comparison, they visit general news web sites, such as Yahoo News, five times a week. Thatís more often than the 4.8 times a week that they look to their local newspaper.
Roughly 83 percent of online news consumers said they believe that cable television-operated web sites are credible. Nearly 80 percent see national newspapers as credible, and 70 percent see national magazines as credible.
Asked to rank the reliability of a number of news sources, consumers ranked cable TV web sites No. 3 in terms of credibility out of a list of 15 possible news sources.
Consumers ranked local radio stationsí web sites last in the list, but that doesnít mean that consumers donít see them as credible: 41 percent of consumers say that they think radio stationsí web sites are reliable.
But journalists donít see news web sites, local TV web sites and local radio sites as being credible at all. Just 18 percent of media workers think that local radio stations have credible web sites, for instance.
The difference in opinion raises the question: Why donít people in the news media completely trust the internet as a news source?
"Journalists, by occupation and by design, are trained to be a pretty skeptical lot," Koon says.
"There was some initial fear when the internet revolution and the online mania were happening, with the new entrees and the ability of the Matt Drudges and others to proclaim themselves journalists."
In other words, journalists felt protective of the standards and the definition of news, and worried that loose cannons could undermine the craftís trustworthiness.
Koons concludes that the role of the internet in news dissemination continues to evolve.
"The debate and discussion are still very much alive, again partly because of the nature of the internet and the medium itself."
But whatever happens, the internet will continue to play a key role, as the events of Sept. 11 demonstrated.
Cable news may have been the medium of first resort, but once viewers realized they were getting no new information there beyond endless replays of the planes crashing into the towers of the World Trade Center, they began logging onto the internet for more in-depth news.
"You could see a shift where maybe in the future the first inclination is to go online instead of turning on the television," Koons says.
"Cable TV is already well established, with only so much capability for providing more information, and ground-level reporters were able to put stuff up online as quickly as they got it and vetted it."
February 7, 2002 © 2002
-Marty Beard is a staff writer for Media Life.