Volume 91, Issue 87

Friday, March 13, 1998

Bottoms up


Canadians want more healthy news, less sensationalism

By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
Gazette Staff

Results of a recent Angus Reid poll on Canadians and the news media have provided valuable insight into the public's perspective of journalism and the role of the media.

Commissioned by Canadian Corporate News, a news distribution company, the poll is the second in what is to become an annual survey of attitudes to be used as a tool by public relations clients.

Conducted in a telephone survey at the end of January, the poll sampled 1,500 Canadian adults regarding attitudes on the media with a 95 per cent accuracy of generalization to the entire adult Canadian population.

The most interesting results indicate people would like more coverage of health issues, the environment and technology, while 19 per cent want to see less coverage of politics and government.

It also found 66 per cent of Canadians say the media is responsible for sensationalizing news stories such as the death of Princess Diana, yet more than half believe the public is partly responsible for this sensationalism. Regardless, 35 per cent of those polled have actually boycotted certain media because of this perceived sensationalism.

"It is pretty significant that 35 per cent have decided to boycott – this shows people react to what they are reading," said Canadian Corporate News public relations manager Lisa Vella.

The issue of sensationalism by media in stories such as the White House sex scandal could also be put to rest by results which indicate many people see the public as at least partly responsible, said John Wright, vice-president of Angus Reid group.

"To make general statements about the media being sensationalistic doesn't take into account those reporters that don't sensationalize," said Western acting dean of journalism David Spencer. "There are consumers out there that like this kind of trash and as long as it's out there they will buy it."

The release of the results Wednesday morning caused quite a stir with much positive feedback but Vella said people have to be careful how the poll is read because results could be misinterpreted.

Accuracy of the poll could also depend on the specific questions asked, Spencer said. "If the questions are fair and legitimate then there can be great value."

The influence of such information could also affect how journalism is taught, Spencer said. "There has to be a connection to what's happening in the field to what is being taught in school."

Another interesting finding included use of the Internet in accessing news which went from nil last year to nine per cent this year, Wright said. The fact 16 per cent of Internet users are between 18 to 24 years in age signals a trend in the news, he added. "This [poll] is good for media in anticipating hunger of knowledge."

Leah Moss, account executive of Communications Meca, a public relations firm belonging to Canadian Corporate News, said these polls can become valuable if valid surveys are taken and if they can be used to help clients with their companies.

Although the survey is not a good example of market research, the results are important because they give an interesting snapshot of the mind-set of Canadians, Moss added.

To Contact The News Department: gaznews@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998