Monday, March 3, 2008

Primary Sources

We'll come back to department stores, and particularly question No. 3. But first, to a poll by Zogby attention must be paid.

The headline on the poll is that "67% View Traditional Journalism as 'Out of Touch.'" But stop the presses: "Nearly half of respondents (48%) said their primary source of news and information is the Internet, an increase from 40% who said the same a year ago. Younger adults were most likely to name the Internet as their top source - 55% of those age 18 to 29 say they get most of their news and information online, compared to 35% of those age 65 and older."

Let's kill all the newspapers! But wait:

"These oldest adults are the only age group to favor a primary news source other than the Internet, with 38% of these seniors who said they get most of their news from television. Overall, 29% said television is their main source of news, while fewer said they turn to radio (11%) and newspapers (10%) for most of their news and information. Just 7% of those age 18 to 29 said they get most of their news from newspapers, while more than twice as many (17%) of those age 65 and older list newspapers as their top source of news and information."

That's right, among print newspapers' most loyal demographic -- 65 and older, where by many estimates more than half among the cohort subscribes to a newspaper -- only 17 percent said newspapers were their top source of news and information.

And the difference between the general response (10 percent) and the young-adult response (7 percent) was three percentage points -- and remember that young adults have always been the group least interested in printed newspapers.

So there are many conclusions that could be drawn from this, depending upon how one wants to view it:

1. Printed newspapers are already so irrelevant that even retirees don't depend on them.
2. Because the percentage of young adults who say newspapers are their prime news source is 10 percentage points below that of senior citizens, newspapers are not only irrelevant, but already dead.
3. Or perhaps -- it indicates that newspapers are read and valued even though they are not the primary news source. For it would appear by comparing this survey to readership data, even among seniors, our most loyal readers, seemingly 50 percent of the cohort take newspapers daily but do not see them as their primary news source.

If that is the case, does it really matter to print what the primary news source is? They gave up on us for that years ago. It matters to the journalistic reach of the organization, but it doesn't say print is dead.

Zogby goes on to say: "86% of Americans said Web sites were an important source of news, with more than half (56%) who view these sites as very important. Most also view television (77%), radio (74%), and newspapers (70%) as important sources of news."

Well, this question strikes me as so vague as to be nearly meaningless, but let's take it on its word. Seven out of 10 Americans say newspapers are important sources of news, and we know from other studies that seven of 10 Americans say they look at a newspaper a few times a week, even though only 1 in 10 Americans say newspapers are their primary news source.

There must be a business model in here somewhere.

And "primary" has two meanings -- "main" and "first." Not that this is a matter of people mis-parsing a word and skewing a survey in a verbal equivalent of hanging chad. But think about the question as this: "Where do you generally go to hear about breaking news first?" Well, heck, we've known for years that it isn't a printed newspaper. It's been TV, or TV and the Internet, since Ruby shot Oswald. And "news" has many meanings. It's an immediate event. It's analysis. It's big stuff and little stuff. It's international and local. Each works better in some media than in others.

Interesting study. But if someone says "this shows print newspapers are doomed" -- we can now point out that it doesn't.

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