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Traditional news media still 1st source on big stories
News release

By the First Amendment Center

  • Analysis, tables

    WASHINGTON — Americans still support the idea of a free press as a watchdog on government, and turn to traditional news sources on major news stories despite skepticism about bias in the news media, according to findings in the first segment of the 2009 State of the First Amendment national survey conducted by the First Amendment Center.

    While new innovations such as Twitter have attracted users and headlines, television and other traditional news media remain the dominant source for Americans on major new stories, the survey found.

    Television was the first source for major news stories for about half of all responding (49%), followed by the Internet at 15%, radio at 13% and newspapers at 10% – which places traditional news media (TV, radio and newspapers) as the first source for 72% of Americans. Twitter, e-mails and social-networking sites each were named by 1% of those responding.

    Similarly, for 48% of Americans TV is the primary source for followup reports on those news stories, followed by the Internet at 29% and newspapers at 9%.

    As the nation observes Constitution Day on Thursday, Sept. 17, this first segment of the State of the First Amendment 2009 survey reports how Americans view their First Amendment freedoms, as well as the reach and credibility of emerging news media. Additional segments this year will survey public opinion on specific First Amendment issues.

    Other results:

  • 71% still see a free press as a necessary “watchdog on government,” though nearly half of those responding (49%) strongly disagreed with the statement that the news media reports the news without bias.

  • Just 3% of those who had an opinion on Twitter found it a “very reliable source of news” and 14% considered it “somewhat reliable,” while 21% said “not reliable at all” and 13%  said “not too reliable.”

  • Many Americans have yet to “tweet”: 49% of those responding didn’t know enough about Twitter to have formed an opinion. The “reliability rating” rose only marginally among the younger groups in the survey: For those ages 18-35, 3.3% said “very reliable,” while it was 3% for those ages 36-49. For older groups, the rating fell: 1.9% for those ages 50-64, and 1.3% for those ages 65 and older.

  • Just 4% of those questioned could name “petition” as one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment, the lowest for any of the five freedoms named in its 45 words.

  • Only freedom of speech was named by more than half of respondents, 55%. Freedoms of religion, press and assembly were named by less than 20% of those responding.

  • Nearly one in five Americans (19%) saw the First Amendment as “going too far” in the rights it guarantees.

    “The findings in this first segment of the 2009 survey suggest that while new forms of obtaining information, including Twitter and social media, are much discussed and growing in use, most Americans continue to rely on the same news organizations — including the news reports picked up by online news providers — on which they have relied for decades,” said Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center. “Clearly, emerging media are novel and are finding an audience, but there still is room for growth on the credibility side.”

    See the survey’s questions, responses and methodology.

    The first segment of the 2009 survey was conducted by telephone by the PERT Group (formerly New England Survey Associates), and directed by University of Connecticut Professor Kenneth Dautrich. The national survey of 1,003 respondents was conducted by telephone between July 25 and Aug. 3, 2009. The sampling error is +/-3.2%. There is only one chance in 20 that the results of a survey this size would differ by more than 3.2 percentage points in either direction.  The sampling error for sub-groups is larger.

    The PERT Group is headquartered in Bloomfield, Conn., with offices in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, and personnel in Stamford, Conn., Caldwell, N.J., and Philadelphia.

    The First Amendment Center works to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education. The center serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, and the rights to assemble and to petition the government.

    The 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.

    First Amendment Center experts are available to discuss the State of the First Amendment 2009 survey and other religious-liberty and free-expression issues, at 615/727-1600.

    # # #

    Media contact:
    Gene Policinski

  • Related

    '08 survey finds most Americans would accept limits on some freedoms

    News release As nation marks Constitution Day, most can't name First Amendment freedoms but seem willing to accept degree of government control. 09.17.08

    Americans still turn to traditional news media first

    By Gene Policinski Even as new media draw spotlight, 2009 State of the First Amendment survey shows most of us rely on TV, radio, newspapers for information during major news events. 09.17.09

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