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More People Reading Political News on 'Net

Reliance on the Internet (search) for political news during last year's presidential campaign grew sixfold from 1996, while the influence of newspapers dropped sharply, according to a study issued Sunday.

Eighteen percent of American adults cited the Internet as one of their two main sources of news about the presidential races, compared with 3 percent in 1996. The reliance on television grew slightly to 78 percent, up from 72 percent.

Meanwhile, the influence of newspapers dropped to 39 percent last year, from 60 percent in 1996, according to the joint, telephone-based survey from the Pew Research Center for The People and the Press and the Pew Internet and American Life Project (search).

Nonetheless, Americans who got campaign news over the Internet were more likely to visit sites of major news organizations like FOX News Channel and The New York Times (43 percent) rather than Internet-only resources such as candidate Web sites and Web journals, known as blogs (search) (24 percent).

Twenty-eight percent said they primarily used news pages of America Online Inc., Yahoo Inc. and other online services, which carry dispatches from traditional news sources like The Associated Press and Reuters.

"It's a channel difference not a substantive difference," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet group and author of the study. "Newspaper executives probably now have to think of themselves less as newspaper people and more as content people."

The study also found the political news audience more mainstream — more women, minorities, older Americans and lower-income users than before.

Fifty-eight percent of political news users cited convenience as their main reason for using the Internet. This group was more likely to use the Internet sites of traditional news organizations or online services.

But one-third of political news consumers cited a belief that they did not get all the news and information they wanted from papers and television, and another 11 percent said the Web had information not available elsewhere. These individuals were more likely to visit blogs or campaign sites for information.

And blogs, Rainie said, likely had an indirect influence on what campaigns talked about and what news organizations covered.

Blogs, for instance, have been credited with forcing an apology from CBS News anchor Dan Rather (search) for last fall's "60 Minutes" report on President Bush's National Guard service.

Blogs "are having a modest level of impact on the voter side and probably a more dramatic impact on the institutional side," Rainie said. "Blogs are still a realm where very, very active and pretty elite, both technologically oriented people and politically oriented people go."

The study also found that the reliance on the Internet for political news was most pronounced among those with high-speed connections at home — 38 percent among broadband (search) users against 28 percent among all Internet users. Reliance on newspapers was roughly even between those groups — 36 percent for broadband and 38 percent for all users.

Forty percent of Internet users found the Internet important in helping them decide for whom to vote, while 20 percent said the online information made a difference.

The random survey of 2,200 adults, including 1,324 Internet users, was conducted Nov. 4-22 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.