2019 News Media Preferences and Issues Survey

Montanans’ news engagement deepens as media preferences intensify, new study reveals

Latest Greater Montana Foundation report finds:

• Montanans are following the news more closely through increasing options of information sources.
• More news followers are using the internet and mobile devices.
• Montanans rate local news sources more credible than national, while judgements of media bias emerge.

June 27, 2019 — Helena, Mont. — A new study released by the Greater Montana Foundation reveals startling new trends in how Montanans think about and consume news and information, both locally and nationally.

According to the 2019 News Media Preferences and Issues Survey, commissioned by GMF and conducted by the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, where Montanans live and what political party they identify with are increasingly determinant factors in what news sources they trust.

The study also finds Montanans are following the news more closely and are increasingly selective of the information sources they consume. Researchers attribute this to the proliferation of available news sources through continued growth of internet and mobile device use.

The statewide, random-sample survey was conducted in spring 2019 and follows the 2015 and 2016 GMF Sources of News surveys. Since the 2015 survey, the study finds Montanans clearly more engaged in the news with 78% of 2019 respondents saying they follow the news very or somewhat closely, compared to 72% in 2015.

“With the proliferation of available news sources, there is a fascinating uptick in Montana among people who say they watch the news closely and the number of information sources they are seeking,” said Nicole McCleskey, partner at Public Opinion Strategies, a national public opinion research firm that provided analytical assistance for the GMF study. “The line between objective news reporting and subjective commentating is blurring, and consumers are taking notice and trying to figure out what is credible and trustworthy.”

In addition to shifts in engagement, findings in the new study reveal changes in viewpoints of media credibility. A growing distrust of media was apparent with 6% of respondents writing in for the first time that all news is “biased" or “I trust none.” In the study Montanans identified a strong favor for local news sources as the most credible of all information sources.

Partisan preferences in news consumption and trustworthiness divided respondents. When asked what specific news source they trust most, 97% of Montanans who wrote in FOX News identified as Republican. No Democrats identified FOX News as their most-trusted source. Montanans who wrote in CNN, CBS or NPR as their most-trusted source identified as Democrat. And 88% of Montanans listing CNN as their most-trusted source identified as Democrat. FOX News was also ranked higher in trustworthiness among residents living in rural counties, whereas CNN, CBS and NPR ranked higher in urban counties.

When asked what multiple platforms respondents access the most, the internet for the first time topped traditional news sources. Social media use for news and information gathering also grew substantially since 2015 with 47% of Montanans using Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for information gathering today, compared to 34% in 2015. And mobile device use for accessing the news increased to 58% from 44% in 2015.

“This study shows how increased use of online news, social media and mobile devices is dramatically changing how Montanans get their news,” said Dr. William Whitsitt, survey project leader and former GMF chair. “Now that people have access to news on multiple platforms, somewhat fewer people appear to rely on traditional options in ways that they may have in the past. Sources like the evening news, which used to be destination viewing, have been increasingly challenged by online options people consume on their own terms. Traditional news has not been abandoned, but it may no longer be the routine, go-to option for many consumers.”

In retesting issues Montanans care about, the 2019 survey found the top five issues of concern to Montanans include jobs and the economy, health care, spending and state taxes, drugs, and education. Since the 2015 and 2016 studies, spending and state taxes, along with drugs rose to the top five concerns, with moral values and energy and resource development dropping down in importance.

About the Greater Montana Foundation

Founded in 1958 by visionary pioneer broadcaster, entrepreneur and philanthropist Ed Craney, the Greater Montana Foundation aims to benefit the people of Montana by encouraging communication on the issues, trends and values important to present and future generations of Montanans. Through its grant programs, GMF provides annual support for students in television and radio programs at the state’s universities as well as through MAPS Media, an after-school multi-media training program. In addition to providing funding support for a variety of communications initiatives, GMF has been a longtime sponsor of Montana PBS and Montana Public Radio programming that is relevant to the history and issues of importance to Montanans.

2019 Survey Fact Sheet

Survey Results Presentation Deck

Video of the Greater Montana Foundation 2019 Media Preferences Survey news conference, June 27, 2019

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