New study finds Montana news organizations and consumers solidly in the internet age

Greater Montana Foundation report reveals how Montanans use the internet and social media among their news sources and highlights benefits and possible concerns.

December 9, 2016 — 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 Montanans, finds that Montana residents and the news organizations they rely upon are solidly moving toward more internet use. Internet access continues to grow in the state, with some 87 percent of residents having access — and almost three quarters of internet users accessing news through smartphones.

Seeking to measure Montanans’ use of the internet for gathering information, the 2016 Montanans’ Internet News Sources and Use Survey follows last year’s inaugural and unique Issues and News Media Preferences Survey (also commissioned by GMF and conducted by the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research) that identified key issues of importance to Montanans and found the state’s citizens rely on both strong traditional news sources — including television, radio and newspapers — and online news outlets. The survey findings released today result from additional work to dig more deeply into the growing use of online news sources by Montanans, including social media and electronic sharing.

“We’re seeing fascinating parallel trends among Montana news consumers and providers,” said Bill Whitsitt, chair of GMF and executive‐in‐residence at UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “Many Montanans are going to the internet for at least a share of their news while still relying on more traditional television, radio and newspaper sources. At the same time, traditional Montana news organizations have websites named as among the most credible sources of local and state news. It appears that business models are evolving to meet new technology‐based preferences of Montana news consumers.”

“Equally fascinating is that many Montanans who get at least part of their news on the internet, especially from social media sites or through email from others, recognize that some of what they receive may not be credible,” Whitsitt said. “That’s positive and may indicate recognition of citizen responsibility to at least attempt to verify information and sources as credible.”

The Internet News Sources and Use study reveals that of those Montanans who are reading a shared news item from the internet, 38 percent believe the information is somewhat credible and 22 percent believe it is slightly or not at all credible.

On the other hand, Whitsitt pointed out that those who receive forwarded news items tend to believe them if they come from individuals with whom they already tend to agree. And social media users also tend to share news items most with like‐minded individuals.

The study finds that almost a quarter of Montanans (23 percent) who use the internet share online news items via email or social media mostly with people who agree with them. About 36 percent of Montanans who use the internet either share or receive news items mostly with like‐ minded people and limit who can see their social media posts.

“Seeing, hearing and sharing information mainly with people we already agree with may not be as positive if it means we are insulating ourselves in ‘information echo chambers,’ rather than exposing ourselves and being receptive to new and different ideas on important issues,” Whitsitt continued.

In retesting issue priorities identified by Montanans in the 2015 survey, today’s results show the same top five: jobs and the economy (overwhelmingly), education, health care, moral values, and energy and resource development.

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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You’ll find additional findings and survey methodology on the separate Fact Sheet available with this press release. A detailed set of results, with cross tabulations, is available by request and will soon be posted here and on the UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research’s website, bber.umt.edu.

The final presentation slide deck can be downloaded here.

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Montanans’ Internet Sources and Use Survey Results: News Conference and Stakeholder Discussion

A news conference and discussion among stakeholders regarding the Greater Montana Foundation’s Fall 2016 internet survey was held at the Craney Studio at the Montana Historical Association on December 9, 2016. The news conference portion of the program was approximately 50 minutes. Following the news conference there was a stakeholders’ discussion involving: Larry Abramson, Dean of the University of Montana School of Journalism; Dewey Bruce, President of the Montana Broadcasters Association; Jim Rickman, Executive Director of the Montana Newspaper Association; Jim Senst, Vice President and General Manager of STARadio and GMF Trustee; and many others from media, business, and state government.

The entire program is available below. During the latter discussion portion, there are some microphone technical difficulties from time-to-time, but they do not detract significantly from the important content of the conversation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eVimoi_Vp4