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Web news scores above print, broadcast on credibility

Adam Clayton Powell III
The Freedom Forum Online

06.12.00

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The most-credible Internet news sources are Web sites run by network or cable TV outlets or national newspapers, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Such well-known Internet names as America Online, Netscape and Yahoo! ranked higher on credibility than lesser-known sites.

CNN.com scored highest in credibility — 39% rated it highly believable — while CNN television was rated highly believable by 33%. Twenty-eight percent rated MSNBC.com highly believable, higher than 26% for NBC News and 19% for MSNBC's 24-hour television channel.

The New York Times on the Web and USAToday.com were rated highly credible by 24% of respondents, while the print edition of USA TODAY received that rating from 17% in the survey. The survey did not ask a question about the believability of The New York Times print edition, but 23% gave the highest believability ranking to "the daily newspaper you are most familiar with."

And in a separate set of focus group surveys by the Markle Foundation, Americans said they trusted business to control the Internet far more than they trust government regulation, according to a report in The New York Times.

On such hot-button issues as fraud and personal privacy, as well, participants said they trusted business, not government, and said individuals should take precautions to protect themselves.

Markle conducted 10 two-hour focus groups over the past few weeks to refine questions planned for more in-depth surveys.

Among news media, continuing a trend, the Pew poll found key segments of the nation's news audience, particularly younger and better-educated Americans and those seeking financial information, are turning increasingly to the Internet. The Web's rapid growth as a source for news continues a splintering of that audience among the Internet, cable and broadcast television, and print publications.

But some of the traditional, dominant news sources — newspapers and television — have not declined since the birth of the World Wide Web as much as many had expected. Newspaper readership has dropped to 63%, according to the survey, down from 71% in 1994. Viewership of all television news declined from 85% to 75% over the same period.

The network evening news programs, such as ABC's "World News Tonight," however, did lose half of their audiences: The percentage of people who say they regularly watch network evening news programs has dropped to 30%, down from 60% in May, 1993, reflecting viewer erosion also measured by the Nielsen ratings.

Many of those viewers may have migrated to the national 24-hour cable networks: 21% reported watching CNN, 17% said they watched the Fox News Channel and 11% viewed MSNBC Cable — and Fox and MSNBC did not exist in 1993. Thirty-two percent reported watching the Weather Channel, and 4% said they watched C-SPAN.

Most reported they were satisfied with TV news: 80% said very satisfied or fairly satisfied, down only slightly from 86% six years ago.

"I think what we're seeing more and more is a news consumer wanting news on his or her schedule, and not on someone else's schedule," said Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association.

"Increasingly, news organizations that are going to be successful have to offer news on a 24-hour basis," Cochran said, noting the growth of prime-time news magazines, network news Web sites, regional news networks and alliances between broadcast news, the Internet and cable news. Local news interest has not eroded as much, she said.

For active financial investors, the Internet largely has supplanted traditional news media as the leading source for stock quotes and investment advice, the poll suggested. Almost half of active traders, 45%, said the Internet was their main source for stock-market updates.

Almost a third, 30%, said they feel overloaded — up slightly from 23% five years ago — but twice as many, or 62%, said they liked having the information available. That number has not changed significantly since 1995, when 64% said they enjoyed having all of the new information sources available.

"People have so many different ways of communicating with one another and learning about the outside world that the environment in which the news is put out and received is very different from five years ago," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which conducted the survey.

Multiple sources of information means Americans will have "less in common with each other," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, even as the variety "enhances our ability to specialize."

Growth of interest in Internet news, however, is not coming quickly enough for some journalists. Salon magazine last week announced layoffs and budget cuts, and APBNews.com, which reports on crime and the justice system, shut down and fired all 140 staffers.

The poll of 3,142 people, taken from April 20 through May 13, has an error margin of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, slightly higher for subgroups.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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