Newspapers Played Major Role in Terrorism Coverage

By Stempel, Guido H.,, III; Hargrove, Thomas | Newspaper Research Journal, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Newspapers Played Major Role in Terrorism Coverage


Stempel, Guido H.,, III, Hargrove, Thomas, Newspaper Research Journal


Much has been written and said about television's coverage of the terrorist attack Sept. 11, 2001, but a national survey by Ohio University and the Scripps Howard News Service shows that newspapers also played an important role.

The event was made to order for television news. The news the day of the attack was from only three places, and there was extremely dramatic video. As the story moved on, the coverage was for the most part coverage of the actions of the U.S. government, and the main source for that news was the president.

The telephone survey of 1,131 randomly selected adults was made between Oct. 20 and Oct. 31, slightly more than a month after the terrorist attack. We asked respondents about their reaction to the attack, their use of media and the role media played.

As is usually the case with an event of this magnitude, media use increased--at least that was true of television news and newspapers. Use of the Internet, however, did not increase.

For television news and newspapers, the figures were the highest we have found in surveys made in the last six years. Average daily use of television news was 83 percent, and average daily use of newspapers was 61 percent. In a survey we did four months earlier, average daily use of television news was 72 percent and average daily use of newspapers was 55 percent. Remember, these figures showing increased media use are for a little more than a month after the terrorist attack.

It was no surprise then that 91 percent of our respondents said television news was a useful source of information about the terrorist attack. However, 67 percent said newspapers were a useful source. Also, 68 percent said radio news was a useful source, while only 37 percent said the Internet was a useful source. Rather obviously, most of our respondents found more than one medium a useful source of news about terrorism

We also asked which was the most useful source, and two-thirds said television news.

However, crosstabulation of those results with results of questions about how the terrorist attack affected people offered a new perspective.

Twenty-eight percent of those who found newspapers most useful said they felt it was very likely or somewhat likely they would become a victim of a terrorist attack. Those who said television was most useful were more fearful, with, 33 percent saying they felt it was very likely or somewhat likely they would be victim of an attack.

Younger respondents were more fearful. Of those between 18 and 34, 65 percent said they felt much less safe or somewhat less safe, while of those 55 or older, only 45 percent said they felt much less safe or somewhat less safe. Fifty-four percent of those between 18 and 34 felt it was at last somewhat likely that they would be a victim of terrorist attack, while only 25 percent of those 55 or older thought so. …

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