A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press offers some solace for beleaguered journalists, but also some reasons for soul-searching.
The good news is that Pew found Americans are spending more time following the news overall and as much time as a decade ago with “traditional” news outlets of TV, radio and print –an average of 57 minutes a day.
On top of that, Americans are spending 13 minutes with news online, and that doesn’t count the considerable time some people spend checking the news over cell phones and other digital devices.
“In short, instead of replacing traditional news platforms, Americans are increasingly integrating new technologies into their news consumption habits,” Pew reports. It noted that fewer than one in 10 Americans rely exclusively on the Internet and mobile technologies to follow the news.
But the poll, conducted between June 8 and 28 among 3,006 adults, also raises some warning signs for journalists and others who worry about an informed citizenry.
For one thing, 17 percent of Americans, more than one in six, said they’d gotten no news anywhere the day before (a figure that’s stayed pretty constant, Pew said.)
More disturbing were hints of the continued fracturing of news sources in this country in ways that appear to bolster ideological rifts so sharp that at times it seems few on different sides of the political spectrum can agree on basic facts.
Notes Pew, “Partisan gaps in media credibility continue to grow.”
Nowhere is this drift more evident than in the heightened reliance of Republicans on the Fox News Channel, the network founded and headed by Roger Ailes, a media consultant for Republican presidents from Richard Nixon to George H.W. Bush.
Four in 10 Republicans told Pew they regularly watch Fox News, up from just 18 percent a decade ago. In comparison, just 12 percent watch CNN. Eight years ago, Republicans split roughly equally between the two networks in their viewing habits.
The significance of this might best be measured in a New York Times column this weekend by Nicholas Kristof titled “Is This America.” In it he references a Newsweek poll that found 52 percent of Republicans polled considered it “probably or definitely true” that “Barack Obama sympathizes with the goals of Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world.”
That’s right, more than half of self-identified Republicans in the poll consider the president an Islamist. That is, quite simply, mind-boggling. I would like to suggest a follow-up poll that measures what percentage of Republicans who believe this get all or most of their news from Fox. Because the network, which employs Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck among its army of “news analysts,” to me often seems more intent on spreading disinformation than on spreading information.
The finding of both Pew and Newsweek polls suggest Fox is succeeding quite well at doing just that. And in a country in which nearly one in five Americans believe the president to be a Muslim (no, he’s not), the self-selected splintering of news sources makes the spread of disinformation that much easier to pull off.
Other highlights (or lowlights) of the poll included these:
— While 26 percent of Americans say they read a print newspaper yesterday, fewer than one in 10 adults under 30 had done so.
— The number of Americans who say they get their news only “from time to time” rather than regularly appears to be growing rapidly. The percentage who put themselves in this group rose from 48 percent in a 2006 Pew poll to 57 percent in the current poll.
All of whic seems to suggest that a public with much more opportunity to be informed in more ways — and a public that is spending more time with the news — may well not be a better informed public.