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With 24/7 news, are voters more informed?

Despite the fact that some of what passes for news is actually opinion, a dizzying amount of news is available to access all day, any time and from anywhere. So why aren’t we more informed?

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Paula Poindexter, associate professor in the School of Journalism, is an expert on women and young voters, African American voters, polling and media coverage of elections. She is the co-editor of “Women, Men, and News: Divided and Disconnected in the News Media Landscape” (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc./Taylor and Francis 2008) and co-author with Maxwell McCombs of the textbook “Research in Mass Communication: A Practical Guide (Bedford/St. Martin’s 2000).”

The New York Times and the Austin American-Statesman are waiting on my driveway long before I get up in the morning. On my commute to work, I catch NPR’s “Morning Edition” and during my drive home I listen to “All Things Considered.” Once home, I read the newspapers that had arrived more than 12 hours before, and I check in on CNN to see if news is breaking from some corner of the world. At precisely 5:30 p.m., I turn to NBC’s network evening news and stay tuned for the local six o’clock news that follows.

I’m not only accessing traditional news sources, news is e-mailed to me, and I Google news I hear talked about. Sometimes while waiting for an appointment, riding in a car or exercising on the stationery bike at the gym, I touch the screen on my iPhone to connect myself to the most updated news. I suspect I’ll access news even more often on a mobile device after I get an iPad later this year.

My students and colleagues are also accessing news from the seemingly unlimited platforms that can deliver news. One graduate student says she gets news through Facebook; another goes to Twitter, and for another, podcasts are the preferred news source.

When I asked my undergraduates about their news consumption habits, they indicated news Web sites and aggregators, blogs, YouTube and Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” are part of their news diet. Many of my colleagues combine print and online news, and one relies on RSS feeds customized for his worldwide interests.

Despite the fact that some of what passes for news is actually opinion, a dizzying amount of news is available to access all day, any time and from anywhere. So why aren’t we more informed?

According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, only 14 percent of the public correctly answered four questions on current events and politics. Of course, there’s more to being informed than knowing current events facts, but still, with so much news available to access, shouldn’t we be more informed?

It’s impossible to be informed when you’re not accessing news and that’s exactly what almost one-fifth of Americans do — they ignore news, according to the latest Pew Research Center news consumption poll.

Plus, can you be informed if your only news sources are opinion-based cable news, blogs and “The Daily Show”? And if you don’t think news sources are credible and the majority of Americans don’t, what’s the incentive for accessing the vast number of news sources to get informed?

Despite the availability of news 24/7, being uninformed is easy, but it’s not good for voters or the society we live in.

As the 2010 mid-term elections draw near, we’re reminded that being informed about the candidates and issues is not only empowering, it’s the best insurance policy we have for a strong democracy.

More election posts from Paula Poindexter:

Visit the mid-term elections blog series home page for a complete lineup of faculty experts’ analyses.