Friday, May 18, 2007

Survey: Newsprint is people's preference

Survey: Newsprint is people's preference
A poll commissioned by an industry group shows newspapers still reign.

Newspapers are still the reigning source of news, advertising and information, according to a recently released survey conducted by American Opinion Research. Eight in 10 adults read a newspaper per week, and Florida readers are 6 percent more likely to pick up a newspaper on the weekdays and 7 percent more likely to read a Sunday newspaper than the national average, the survey said.

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The survey was commissioned in December by the Florida Press Association, a nonprofit organization for newspapers and journalism-related businesses. It was conducted by American Opinion Research, which is headed by a former pollster from USA Today, which could raise some questions about the ethical foundation of such a survey.

In the 51-page report, findings included:

About 82 percent of Florida adults read a printed newspaper during an average seven-day week.

Print newspapers are the most-used venue for public notices. Two thirds of those surveyed said they would read less public notices if they were moved online.

About 66 percent of adults use the newspaper as their main source of local sales and shopping information.
The study paints a rosy picture of an industry that's recently experienced some turmoil. Circulation has been dropping for newspapers nationwide for years. Statewide, The Orlando Sentinel recently slashed 24 newsroom positions, and The Florida Times-Union implemented a hiring and salary raise freeze in February, citing declining advertising revenue.

But newspapers' monetary woes are a separate issue from the survey's results, said Dean Ridings, president and CEO of the Florida Press Association.

"The real estate downturn has affected a lot of different media but certainly newspapers," he said. "In addition to the Realtors not selling [homes] and not advertising, the title companies, the home big-box stores are slowing advertising - it's all related to real estate as well. Those have had a huge impact on the revenue of newspapers."

The survey also noted that printed newspapers are losing traction to the Internet when it comes to job, automotive, real estate and major appliance advertisement services for readers.

"Newspapers have lost ground," Ridings said. "But we still have the advantage when it comes to credibility."

The survey findings seem to be sound and comparable to those of national studies, said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit institute that studies journalism and ethics issues.

"A contributing factor to the statement about Florida readers reading more and in higher numbers than average could be the higher-than-average age of our population," Edmonds said. "It's factual and a good point, but there's a lot of shifting as the years go by with readers who used to be seven days a week readers and now they read two days a week. When you add all that up, that's a contributing factor to the loss of circulation."

And what about the potential ethical quagmire posed by the survey being commissioned by an institution that stands to gain from positive results?

"It is the kind of survey that points to some of the positives, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that," Edmonds said. "The Florida Press Association is a source of information and research but they're also in the business to promote the industry and that's OK, too."

Florida Press Association's Ridings insists that credibility was critical in disseminating the information, and he was shocked by such positive results.

"We get so lost with the problems that we're having that we tend to lose sight of the overwhelming evidence that newspapers are still a source of information," he said. "For us as an association, credibility is more important than hype. Our members are very skeptical."

It all came down to hard boiled-facts, according to Anthony Casale, CEO of American Opinion Research and former USA Today pollster. "We get paid whether the numbers are good or bad."

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