Montana Internet access reaches national levels

New study reveals Montanans’ strong reliance on traditional news sources, preference for coverage of local issues and the economy, and growing use of online information sources. 

September 10, 2015 — Helena, Mont. — A new study commissioned by the Greater Montana Foundation, the organization dedicated to Montana’s communications sector and the issues, trends and values important to Montana, finds that 84 percent of Montanans today have Internet access at home — the first time Montana has met the nation’s average Internet access rate. The Montana Issues and News Media Preferences Survey, completed earlier this summer by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana with analytical assistance by Public Opinion Strategies, offers the latest measurement of resident Internet access in the state as well as citizens’ top preferences for issues and information sources.

“We’re seeing Montana come full blown into the digital age — both in terms of Internet use to access traditional news sources and exposure to information from new sources,” said Dr. Bill Whitsitt, chair of GMF and executive-in-residence at UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “Through the survey findings we’re getting valuable insight into Montanans’ growing use of online information sources as well as into the issues that matter to them the most.”

The first statewide survey of its kind to poll Montanans both about the issues that are most important to them and how they get their information about those issues finds that local news from all sources is very closely followed and highly sought — with 48 percent of Montanans considering local community news one of the top three news stories that interest them. The survey also reveals that Montanans consider jobs and the economy the top issue facing the state, followed by education and health care.

“We’re seeing the lines of traditional media blurred — newspapers and TV and radio stations are expanding their online and social media presence, TV reporters are writing online articles and video has become a tool for all outlets not just television broadcast,” Whitsitt said. “Undoubtedly, in a digital world, journalism and communication will continue to evolve and so will Montanans’ media habits.”

As Montanans’ access to the Internet increases, the issues and preferences survey reports that social media usage in the state is also on the rise with 62 percent of Montanans having at least one social media account. Facebook is the most-used social network by Montanans, and one in three are using social media to access news and information.

Even with the mounting options for people to obtain news and information, the survey finds that existing traditional media are holding ground. Television remains the information source Montanans turn to most to get their news. More than 60 percent of Montanans listen to radio for entertainment, news and sports. Community weekly newspapers are read by 52 percent of Montanans in rural counties. And the Billings Gazette online is the most read Montana-based news website in the state.

“Part of our mission at the Greater Montana Foundation is to lead the effort to understand the dynamics of information and issues in the state now and for the future,” said Ron Davis, GMF vice chair. “For the communications sector, knowing how Montanans are getting their news and information about what matters to them is key to how the industry serves our citizens and adapts in a changing world.”

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 with an emphasis on the issues, trends and values of importance to present and future generations of Montanans. Through scholarship and grant programs, GMF funds television and radio programs, webcasts and a variety of other communication initiatives. greatermontana.org

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Please refer to the accompanying Fact Sheet for survey methodology and additional trend analysis of the Montana Issues and News Media Preferences Survey.