A most interesting difference in the way US and UK internet users got their news about the war in Iraq emerged last week from a UK survey of Internet users. In the UK, a fairly unexceptional picture emerges. Television (53%) emerged as by far the most mentioned news source in this context, followed by the internet (20%), radio (15%) and national daily newspapers (10.4%). Other information sources received negligible mentions. The picture in the US was significantly different. There, the internet emerged as the pre-eminent main news source (54%), far ahead of television (24%), radio (13%) and daily newspapers (5%).
As you know, we’re always interested in how individual behaviour is changing (see last week’s editorial, Why corporations are failing individuals, and Incorporating the customer’s needs into your CRM programme), so this looks like something worth exploring further.
First, let’s get the various caveats out of the way. The survey was undertaken by the British Life and Internet Project who are undertaking a series of surveys aimed at understanding Internet usage better (see Internet reduces marketing effectiveness for the results of another of their surveys). The survey population comes from an email database, with a significant population from The Independent (a UK ‘quality daily’ newspaper) which may skew the results, as may the fact that all survey respondents (1909 from the UK, and 267 from the USA, with responses being gathered for 10 days from the 8th April) are self-selecting and already Internet users. You can find the full survey, with all reservations at www.britishlifeproject.co.uk.
Let’s look at some of the detailed results of the survey. First, how does the use of various channels as the main source of news of the wider world vary between the US and the UK. The following table illustrates this:
|Channel (wider world):||UK||US|
This shows a quite staggering difference between the US and UK, with US conventional channels (TV, radio, newspapers) being used far less than one might expect. Either there is a fairly deep distrust of conventional media in the US, or this particular sample (responding to a UK internet survey) is particularly dedicated to the Internet. It would also be very interesting to know which Internet channels they are using for their news. Perhaps US members of the CRM-Forum could let us know which Internet news sites they use, by adding a comment to this editorial. The UK picture presents a much more conventional result, with TV coming well in front, and newspapers and radio virtually joint equal in second place.
Which channels do people use for local news? The table below shows a much less dramatic picture:
|Channel (Local news):||UK||US|
Here, both UK and US show a broadly similar picture, with local daily newspapers being by far the most popular source of local news. Local television in the US is much weaker than in the UK, and local radio much stronger, with the Internet being the least popular channel of all, though significantly higher in the US than in the UK.
So, now we’ve got a general picture of how different channels are used, where did the survey population get their news of the Iraq war? The following table shows the raw results:
|Channel (Iraq war):||UK||US|
There are a number of interesting facts here. In both countries, compared with conventional use of channels for ‘wider world’ news, the use of the Internet for news of the Iraq war has grown (UK by 25%, and US – from a much higher base – by 6%).
There is again, a significant difference between the US and UK use (and trust??) of television and in both countries the use of national newspapers is significantly lower than one might expect. Of course, the immediacy of television reporting of the war, compared with newspaper reporting, will probably have contributed significantly to this. Nevertheless, if you are a newspaper owner, perhaps you should be worried.
Another fact that emerges is the difference in the use of television for news of the war in both countries. For the UK respondents, we have a breakdown of the actual channels used, which may help clarify matters. The following table shows the top ten specific television news broadcasts that were used at least once by respondents in the first two weeks of the war:
|TV News broadcast:||UK|
|BBC news at 9/10pm||80%|
|BBC 6 o’clock news||66%|
|Channel 4 news||64%|
|Local news on BBC1||59%|
|BBC Breakfast news||58%|
|24-hour news on BBC||54%|
|ITV news at 9/10pm||53%|
|ITV News at 6pm||42%|
|BBC1 Lunchtime news||40%|
What is interesting here, is the predominance of the BBC, with seven of the top-ten slots, skewed towards the top, out of 22 different broadcasts, with no BBC services lower than position 10. With the exception of Channel 4 news, and ITV news at 9/10, no other non-BBC news slot was used by more than 50% of the survey population.
Perhaps the BBC, with its long tradition of public service broadcasting, and its reputation for relatively ‘objective’ reporting, and its worldwide broadcasting, still retains a significant reputation as a news service to be trusted. What would be interesting to know would be how many non-UK based CRM-Forum members used the BBC services (either the world services of the BBC – television and radio, or its internet news site (http://news.bbc.co.uk/), and incidentally my home page), as a major source of news about the Iraq war.
Perhaps I can be permitted to colour these drab statistics with my own personal use of news channels during the war. At the beginning of the war, like many, I was fascinated by the immediacy of the television reporting, and used the BBC’s 24 hour news service to follow the war. However, very rapidly, I found that getting little glimpses of a fast-evolving situation, though dramatic was highly confusing, and I started to focus more on the BBC’s regular news broadcasts at lunch-time and late evening (9-10pm), complemented by analysis in the ‘quality dailies’, particularly The Independent and The Times. However, I found the TV broadcasts rather too focused on the UK, and US, view of the conflict.
Towards the end of the war my news updates consisted of:
• BBC Internet site, to get depth, and comments from non-UK, non-US observers or participants in the war. This was usually checked first thing in the morning, to ‘catch up’ with what had happened in the 5 hours ahead Iraq day.
• BBC world news (broadcast here in the UK only at 8:00pm on BBC4) which, I presume because of the global audience, gave a far more balanced view of the war than the rather UK-focused broadcasts on UK BBC channels.
• Supplemented by daily analyses in the Independent and the Times to gain a potentially deeper understanding.
Again, I’d like to hear from members about their use of news channels. Make a comment on this editorial by clicking the ‘Add a comment’ link below.
So what conclusions can we gather from this analysis. Firstly, given the low number of US respondents, and the potential skewing introduced by the fact that they were responding to a UK survey, we have to be cautious about the US results. If we put that caution to one side, for a moment, the following tentative conclusions look interesting:
- The use of the Internet as a ‘trusted source of news’ is high in both countries, but significantly higher in the US. Despite our reservations on sample size, it is clear that television and national newspapers are low in all categories of news in which they have been analysed (‘wider world’, local news, and the Iraq war). To me this looks as if these channels are significantly failing their audiences in the US. Certainly, it looks as if the Internet is increasingly going to become a ‘news channel of choice’ in both the US and the UK, and elsewhere.
- As for the difference between UK and US use of news sources, there are two potential causes. Either acceptance of the internet as a news channel is much further ahead in the US, or perhaps the BBC plays a unique role in the UK, (and the rest of the world?) as a provider of news which is considered to be pretty objective.
- Perhaps the most interesting thing is the growing need for ‘global news resources’. By this, I do not mean a news resource for members of a particular culture wherever they are (e.g. the world editions of the Financial Times, or the International Herald Tribune). Instead, the survey, and my personal experience suggest that there is a growing interest in understanding the perspective of people in other cultures. For example, both UK and US respondents wanted to be able to get a more detailed understanding of an Arab perspective of the war.
For myself, I try and meet those needs through a number of resources:
- The BBC Internet site (news.bbc.co.uk) has a global edition, and also publishes comments from people from around the world.
- The BBC’s world service (both radio and TV), provides a much less UK-centric view of world happenings than its UK offerings. For irritating commercial reasons these BBC world TV services are not available in the UK, except for a half-hour news bulleting at 8:00pm on BBC4 every day.
- On the newspaper front, there is a weekly digest of UK and European newspapers called ‘The Week’ which I find an invaluable resource for a near-global perspective – it has almost replaced my purchase of a daily newspaper, and I have been known to purchase a copy or two of the International Herald Tribune.
With the increasing emphasis on global phenomena (9/11, the Afghanistan war, politics at the UN, the Iraq war, and now SARS), there is likely to be a significant growth in news channels with that ‘global’ perspective.
As always we’d like to hear your comments, particularly on what news services (conventional, and Internet-based) you make use of. Make them below or email me at mailto:[email protected]