The good old Pew Center has conducted a fascinating study into how Americans are getting their news about the US election.
The big finding is, once again, that the internet continues to grow as a source of campaign news – and at the same time traditional media continues to decline (though it needs to be noted that traditional sources are not declining as quickly as the internet is rising). 24% of Americans now regularly get news about the election online – and this rises to 42% of 18-29 year olds.
But within the big picture some of the detailed figures are astonishing. The survey finds that more than a quarter of 18-29 year olds (27%) use social networking sites to get information about the campaign (and 37% of 18-24 year olds).
Information, what information? I realise I’m a social networking neanderthal (having scribbled on none of my Facebook friends’ walls and joined only 2 groups) but the news information I get via Facebook is along the lines of ‘Alison prefers friday nights to monday nights’ or ‘Sarah says she has a crush on an octogenarian DJ’. You can go out and find information about the campaign (see Barack Obama’s ‘Notes’ for example’) and receive news from groups, but in the first case this is hardly impartial and in the second pre-filtered.
This finding can’t help but fuel the concerns of those who think people will become increasingly deaf to any information that might quaintly be called ‘public interest’, prefering to find stuff themselves (however unbalanced) or hear it from their peers.
On a brighter note, the survey suggests serendipity is not dead. 52% of web users said ‘they “come across” campaign news and information when they are going online to do something else’. I guess this is a little like channel surfing late at night, stumbling upon ‘This Week’ and getting stuck listening to Michael Portillo arguing with Dianne Abbot.
And the report also finds that people go to a remarkable range of websites for campaign news. ‘For every person getting campaign news from a site like MSNBC or CNN,’ Pew says, ‘there is a person getting campaign news from a website that targets a far smaller audience’ – most of these being niche internet news websites.
At this rate it looks as though the internet should surpass traditional media as the main source of election news for young people in 2012. Although what ‘news’ they’ll get from it is far from clear.
At least there will always be a hard core of young people interested in politics. An impressive 8% of enthusiastic 18-29 year olds signed up as a ‘friend of the candidate’ – future campaign co-ordinators perhaps?