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Study: Internet Becoming Political-News Force, but TV Still Rules

The Internet is becoming a "major source" of campaign news, particularly for young people, while local TV and the network nightly news' share of those campaign-news viewers is down significantly and cable has remained essentially flat.

But TV still remains the main source of news by a wide margin, although the Net has surpassed newspapers in that category.

That's according to the latest edition of the Pew Research Center's quadrennial survey, which found that 24% of Americans regularly learn "something" about the campaigns from the Web, compared with only 13% in the 2004 campaign and more than double the 9% in 2000.

However, a majority of those (52%) said they were not searching that news out on the Net, but instead "came across" it while they were surfing for something else.

MSNBC was the most frequently mentioned online news site by the respondents (26%), followed by (23%) and Yahoo News (22%).

Among the 18-24 crowd, 37% said they have gotten information from social networks like MySpace and Facebook, where campaigns have turned to help spread their message virally. But the trend has not trickled up to the older set, with only 4% of those in their 30s getting any information from the sites.

An even larger group of young people, 41% of those under 30, said they are watching videos of debates, speeches or political ads online.

On the TV side, 40% said they regularly learned something from local TV news, down from 42% in 2004 and 48% in 2000. The network evening newscasts were down even more, at 32%, down from 35% in 2004 and way down from 45% in 2000. Cable news networks were flat at 38%.

Television remains the main source of news for 60% of the respondents. That was down from 68% in 2004 but still four times the next medium on the list, the Internet at 15%, which surpassed newspapers, No. 3 at 12%. In 2004, 15% named newspapers as their main source and only 6% identified the Internet.

One somewhat curious finding was that although many people, particularly younger viewers, got information on campaigns from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the late-night shows, they did not feel like they were missing out on any news when the shows were in repeats. Less than one-half (46%) of respondents were even aware that the writers’ strike affected those shows.

Pew polled 1,439 adults Dec. 19-30.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.