January 10, 2003

Tune in, Turn on, Listen to the News

A new Gallup Poll finds that 22 percent of Americans rely on talk radio as their primary news source, double what it was four years ago.

That means, writes Steve Carney in the Los Angeles Times, that when "Rush Limbaugh lambastes "environmental wackos" and "feminazis" from his "Excellence in Broadcasting Network"; Bill O'Reilly thunders outrage from his "No-Spin Zone"; and one in five Americans call it getting their daily dose of news."

Of course, it's not news that newspapers are no longer the nation's first choice for news - television long ago took that position and continues to be ranked No. 1 by 57 percent of the people, while only 47 percent turn to a newspaper first, according to Gallup

What is surprising, though, is that an increasingly significant proportion of the public no longer distinguishes between Dan Rather and talk show blather.

It could be that so many Americans, particularly younger ones, have lost or never acquired a reading habit - only 54 percent of U.S. adults read a newspaper yesterday, according to the Newspaper Association of America - that they simply can't tell the difference.

Andrew Cline offers another, better documented, theory on Rhetorica: Talk radio is easy. No intellectual sweat is broken taking in its message, especially the political ideology that dominates its airtime. He argues:

" radio helps reduce the costs of acquiring (political) information. Newspapers and television require certain kinds of attention (different for each) that draws attention away from other tasks. Radio, however, can operate in the background as we drive or work."

Newspapers are fighting for mindshare with Limbaugh, O'Reilly and Martha Zoller. How can they compete for an audience that prefers not even to use its mind?

Posted by Tim Porter at January 10, 2003 01:35 PM