Reports of the death of newspapers have been greatly exaggerated, says a new study by the Canadian Internet Project.
According to the report released at Ryerson University last week, online activity appears to "supplement rather than displace" traditional media use, a conclusion researchers say "flies in the face of conventional wisdom" about media consumption.
Not surprisingly, the study found internet penetration has climbed from 72 per cent to 78 per cent since 2004, with respondents devoting more and more time each week to surfing the Web.
But the study also revealed Canadians are now spending more time (4.4 hours per week in 2007) with their favourite broadsheet or tabloid than they were four years ago (4 hours per week in 2004).
"We've heard often that the sky is falling, that newspapers and television are dead," lead researcher Charles Zamaria told the crowd of sponsors and reporters. "The internet and traditional media co-exist well together."
Zamaria said the data shows "media tends to beget media." Not only are Canadians spending more time each week reading newspapers, but Internet users are spending the same amount of time using traditional media as non-users.
"There is no difference in traditional media consumption between internet users and non-users," said Zamaria, a doctoral candidate in the joint Communications and Culture program at Ryerson and York University.
Rather than biting into time spent reading newspapers, the Internet is impinging on a range of other activities, such as face-to-face time with family and friends, the researchers said.
What's more, 78 per cent of Canadian Internet users affirmed that printed newspapers are still a trusted source of news.
The longitudinal study, by far the most exhaustive of its kind, is being conducted in 28 countries as part of the World Internet Project.
With funding from the Ontario and federal governments, the CBC, Bell, eBay and the CRTC, Zamaria and co-researcher Fred Fletcher will continue to conduct interviews and release data every two to three years.
Survey data was gleaned from 25- to 45-minute telephone interviews conducted with 3,150 respondents across Canada during the summer of 2007.
Interestingly, the study also found that gender, ethnic and income gaps in internet usage are decreasing, with one notable exception: language. The gulf in web usage between French- and English-Canadians persists.
Also of interest: more than half of the over-60 demographic uses the internet regularly in Canada.
- Drew Halfnight