Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Is Anyone Paying Attention?

Despite the proliferation of news outlets on the Internet and cable TV, Americans still don’t know much more about national and international affairs than they did 20 years ago, according to a new Pew Research Center study. Only 8 of 1,502 respondents correctly answered all 23 questions that asked them to identify public figures such as the Vice President of the U.S. and the governor of their state, and whether Congress passed legislation to increase the minimum wage.

The survey respondents deemed most informed were more likely to be viewers of what the New York Times (subscription required) called "fake news programs" -- "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" -- followed by the Web sites of major newspapers. Next on the list: "News Hour with Jim Lehrer" and then "The O’Reilly Factor" which tied with National Public Radio; and then Rush Limbaugh’s radio program (none of which were termed "fake").

Nearly 4 in 10 of all surveyed regularly use at least one type of Internet news source, either news pages of major search engines such as Google or Yahoo, websites of television news organizations, or websites of major national newspapers. About one in ten read blogs.

But does anyone listen to radio? When Don Imus uttered his now infamous remarks April 4 on WFAN radio, relatively few people were actually listening, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription required). It was 6:14 a.m. EST. But a blogger for Media Matters for America was watching the MSNBC simulcast of the show, and posted a video clip of the comment. Media Matters sent an email to several hundred reporters, and while the post received numerous comments, the next day top news outlets did not mention the incident.

It wasn’t until about 36 hours after the comment was made when it proverbially hit the fan – or was it the WFAN? -- as MSNBC executives fielded complaints from viewers and employees who had seen the remark on the Media Matters site. Then everyone began paying attention. The Village Voice's blog, Running Scared, sums it up: "None of Imus' eminent guests, who included many of the nation's most prominent journalists and politicians, apparently ever thought the show's racist hijinks were worthy of mention."

Maybe it's just not real until we see it on the Internet.

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