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Public Attitudes

Public Attitudes

It is impossible to evaluate the state of the news media without noting that 2004 was not an average year, what with an election and a host of scandals, from CBS’s Memogate to the continuing introspection at The New York Times and USA Today.

How does radio fare in all of this?

We know from most available data that radio news audiences have been and continue to be, for the most part, stable. Radio is not seeing its audience shift away like those of network television and even cable.

But what is it that audiences are listening to, and why? When asked how much media bias they saw, 46% of those for whom radio was the main source of election news coverage felt there was a great deal of bias in the media. That was more than the percentages for those who said Fox News was their main source of campaign coverage (43%) or the Internet (40%) or CNN (27%).1

As the study looked specifically at the coverage of the presidential campaign, 33% of those who said their main source of election news was radio saw a Democratic bias in election coverage. Only 12% of radio listeners saw a Republican bias; 32% saw no bias at all.2

Interestingly, when asked the same question, only 14% of people whose primary election news source was Fox News saw a Republican bias in media coverage of the election; 38% of those viewers saw a Democratic bias.3

The number of people using radio to learn about the candidates and their campaigns is growing. While declines in viewing for campaign news have hit nightly network news (-10%), newspapers (-9%) and even local TV news (-6%) between 2000 and 2004, radio is one of a group of media sources that have seen incremental growth: talk radio (+2%), National Public Radio (+2%), morning TV shows (+2%), comedy TV shows (+2%) and particularly cable news networks (+4%).4

Where Americans Learn About the Candidates and Campaign
2000 vs. 2004
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, ’’Cable and Internet Loom Large in a Fragmented Political News Universe,’’ January 11, 2004
* Survey qu.: “For each item that I read, please tell me how often, if ever, you learn something about the presidential campaign or the candidates from this source.” Chart shows percent of Americans who “regularly” learn something from given outlet.

What do these media have in common?

Each of the media showing growth in campaign-news viewers or listeners gives news consumers not only a certain degree of control over the type of content they are hearing, as with cable news, but also a certain level of engagement with the outlet. In fact, another set of figures from The Pew Research Center’s survey suggest that the engagement factor is perhaps the greater draw for these media types.

The Internet is the most obvious “engagement outlet,” but engagement occurs even with morning TV news programs. Looking beyond the most obvious – the now ubiquitous crowds standing outside the studio windows with signs and banners – we also have the numerous breaks where the network hosts send the action back to local anchors and television personalities for news and weather. Network morning shows, in essence, give a chunk of the show to local communities.

The level of potential engagement and discussion is also undoubtedly part of the attraction for radio, given the level of interaction afforded by talk radio and some of the shows on National Public Radio’s member-station programming. This growth in the use of radio to acquire campaign news, even in the often unapologetically biased talk radio, is not surprising when we remember that 46% of such listeners themselves believe the media have a “great deal” of bias.

Views on Media Bias, by Main Source of Election News
January 2004

Great deal Fair amount Not much/Not at all Don�t Know Total
Radio
46%
26
25
3
100
Fox News
43%
33
22
2
100
Internet
40%
33
26
1
100
Newspaper
33%
36
29
2
100
CNN
27%
42
28
3
100
Local TV
25%
32
39
4
100
Network TV
23%
39
36
2
100

Source: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, ’’Cable and Internet Loom Large in a Fragmented Political News Universe,’’ January 11, 2004
Survey qu: “To what extent do you see political bias in news coverage? A great deal, a fair amount, not too much, or not at all?”

Media Preferred for Election News
January 2004

No point of view My point of view Don�t know Total
Network TV 65% 29 6 100
Local TV 66% 25 9 100
Newspaper 68% 25 7 100
CNN 71% 24 5 100
Fox News 70% 24 6 100
Radio 70% 24 6 100
Internet 78% 14 8 100

Source: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, ’’Cable and Internet Loom Large in a Fragmented Political News Universe,’’ January 11, 2004
Survey qu: “Thinking about the different kinds of political news available to you, what do you prefer…”

Footnotes

1. Pew Research Center on the People and the Press, “Cable and Internet Loom Large in Fragmented Political News Universe,” January 11, 2004, pg. 16.

2. Pew Research Center on the People and the Press, “Cable and Internet Loom Large in Fragmented Political News Universe,” January 11, 2004, pg. 15.

3. Pew Research Center on the People and the Press, “Cable and Internet Loom Large in Fragmented Political News Universe,” January 11, 2004, pg. 15.

4. Pew Research Center on the People and the Press, “Cable and Internet Loom Large in Fragmented Political News Universe,” January 11, 2004, pg. 1.