Iraq war a ‘milestone’ for Web news

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More than half of wired Americans have been going online to get news and commentary about the war in Iraq, at least twice the number of people who usually turn to the Internet for news, a new survey found. The study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project also found that the popular independent Web diaries known as blogs have gained a small, but growing, foothold in the online news world.

MORE THAN THREE-QUARTERS, or 77 percent, of wired Americans have used the Internet in connection with the war in Iraq, either by sending e-mail or, to a lesser extent, mobilizing support for their views, according to the survey. In particular, the study found that 56 percent of online Americans turned to news sites for information about the war and about 14 percent say their Internet usage has increased because of the war.

“More than half the people who are online are getting their news online — that’s never happened before,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet project. “It’s another milestone moment for online news.”

The Pew survey, which was conducted during the first six days of the war, backs up reports of spikes in Internet news readership from online measurement firms Nielsen/NetRatings and comScore, which have shown double-digit audience growth since the war in Iraq began. Traffic to online news sites has been soaring especially during the daytime, when most Americans are at work and have access to faster Internet connections, the online research firms have shown.

Broadband users (70 percent have used the Web for war-related searches) were much more likely to go online for news information than dial-up surfers (58 percent), the Pew survey said.

Still, despite the record levels for online news, the medium lags far behind TV and newspapers as the primary source of information for the majority of Americans, the survey found. Eighty-nine percent of Americans said they turn on the tube for most of their war news; among Internet users, the percentage drops only to 87 percent.

Still, 17 percent of online Americans said their principal source of news was the Internet (respondents were allowed to cite two principal sources, if they wished), a significant jump since immediately after the 9/11 attacks when only 3 percent of Internet users gave the Web as their preferred news source. That leads Rainie to conclude that “the permanent online news audience will be bigger after the war than it was before.”

In general, younger Internet users were more favorable toward online news than their elders.

As for blogs, the continually updated Web journals that have become more popular in the last few years, the Pew survey found they were not yet a significant source of news for most. Only about 4 percent of Internet users read blogs, the survey found, with their popularity increasing at a greater rate among the under-30 crowd.

But just because the Internet provides a wider variety of news information for wired Americans than traditional media sources, it doesn’t mean they’re getting different perspectives, respondents said. About 17 percent of Internet users surveyed felt going online for news provided different points of view, compared to 64 percent who felt that online news gave them “pretty much the same” views as those in TV and newspapers.

The survey was conducted March 20 - 25 and is based on telephone surveys of 1,600 adults, 18 and older, of whom 999 were Internet users. The margin of error for questions asked of the entire sample is plus or minus 3 percent; for Internet users, plus or minus 4 percent.