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August 02, 2006

The Pew Media Study

The Pew Research Center released results a few days ago from its biennial study of American's media consumption habits (report, printable PDF, topline questionnaire).   Although it may have been lost amidst a rush of major news stories and other polls released in the last week, two things make the Pew survey report a must read for political polling junkies.   First and most important, the ongoing study (the latest in a series conducted regularly since 1996) is the most comprehensive data available on the ways Americans get their news.  Second, the survey is the first major public poll I am aware of to incorporate interviews conducted by mobile phone among Americans from mobile-phone only households [for some questions].**

The focus of the latest report - not surprisingly - is the way the Internet continues to change the way Americans get their news: 

A decade ago, just one-in-fifty Americans got the news with some regularity from what was then a brand new source - the internet. Today, nearly one-in-three regularly get news online.  But the growth of the online news audience has slowed considerably since 2000, particularly among the very young, who are now somewhat less likely to go online for news than are people in their 40s. For the most part, online news has evolved as a supplemental source that is used along with traditional news media outlets. It is valued most for headlines and convenience, not detailed, in-depth reporting.

The study goes into remarkable detail on how, where and when Americans get their news and what they like and dislike about the news sources they use.  It asks about a wide variety of different news outlets and modes, including how many Americans get news by cell phone, PDA or podscasting.  A follow-up survey probed the perceived credibility of the national television networks and various national news brands, and the report provides tabulations of those ratings by party identification. 

If you have a question about how new modes of communication are affecting the way Americans get their news, the odds are that this survey asks about it, one way or another.  Here is an interesting example:  The number of Americans that reports having a "digital video recorder like TiVo that automatically records TV programs you select," has sharply increased from 3% in 2002, to 13% in 2004 to 23% on the current survey.  Nearly one in four Americans how has the ability to record programs and - take note media consultants - fast forward through paid advertising 

The noteworthy twist regarding the methodology of the survey involves the way the Pew researchers opted to check on the roughly 7%-9% of the public that cannot be reached by a landline telephone (individuals that are systematically excluded from traditional telephone surveys):

To evaluate the news usage of the cell-only population, Pew conducted a shorter version of the media consumption survey with a sample of 250 people who have a cell phone but no landline telephone. Respondents were interviewed on their cell phones, using a sample drawn from a nationally representative cell telephone number database. The interviews were conducted May 15 - June 3, 2006.

News consumption for some sources  especially newspapers  was lower among cell-only respondents than among those with a landline phone. However, when the cell-only respondents are included with the respondents reached on a landline, and this blended sample is weighted to match the full U.S. population demographically and with respect to telephone status, overall estimates of news consumption are affected by an average of less than one percentage point.

The report provides a detailed comparison of data from the main (landline) sample and the "blended sample" that comes from both landline and cell-phone-only households.  It is all of interest to political poll junkies and worth reading in full.

**An earlier Pew survey interviewed respondents by cell phone in order to the study the cell-phone only household phenomenon.  This is the first major media study I am aware of on more general topics to incorporate a cell-phone-only sample.   

Also, to clarify:  Most of the tabulations in the Pew report, including the results I cited above and all of the results in the filled-in questionnaire are based on the conventional sample of landline telephone households.   The only tabulations based on the blended sample of cell-phone and wired households appear at the end of Section 6 of the report under the heading "Cell-Only Household's News Usage."

Related Entries - Polls in the News

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on August 2, 2006 at 03:44 PM in Polls in the News | Permalink

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