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Internet a growing source for campaign news, study finds

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As technology becomes more widely available, the way voters gather information about candidates has changed, even since the last presidential election.

According to Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, more people are watching campaigns more closely and on nearly every news platform compared with 2008, but the biggest gains have come on the Internet, including the websites of traditional news sources and those native to the web.

Social media platforms, mainly Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, have rapidly grown in popularity since the 2008 presidential election. The number of Americans who said they regularly go to these sites for campaign information has nearly doubled since January, according to Pew. However, only about 17 percent of Americans tune in to social media.

Robert Phipps, of Fairmont, is part of that 17 percent. He said while he reads newspapers online, he uses social media to drive him to certain stories.

"In the past, I've relied on the web version of print media to gather information," he said. "For example, in 2008, I would often skim through several online newspapers at the start of the day. Now at the beginning of the day I'll more often scan my Twitter feed and look for interesting stories that journalists or campaigns tweet."

Phipps also relies on his Facebook feed. He said his friends represent diverse interests and often alert him to thing he may have not seen otherwise.

"I still take a look at several different papers a day, but I use Twitter as my first look," he said.

The number of people who primarily depend on local and national newspapers as their source for campaign information has grown since January, Pew found. According to their numbers, about 20 percent of adults said they relied on local newspapers for information. That number is now 23 percent. A bigger jump occurred in those who look to national newspapers for information. According to Pew, 8 percent of adults said they relied on national newspapers in January. That number is now 13 percent.

Newspapers are also taking advantage of social media. For example, when the Charleston Daily Mail began endorsement meetings in September, staff regularly updated the newspaper's Twitter feed and Facebook page with links to a live blog and video of the meetings. That allowed voters like Phipps to see how candidates in down ticket races interacted with one another.

"Social media has also been great in sharing events I might have otherwise missed," he said. "The Daily Mail's streamed interviews with candidates were a super example of that. I didn't get to go to a campaign event with either treasurer (John) Perdue or Sen. (Mike) Hall, but I got to her them both talk about their ideas via the stream."

Both Perdue and Hall are running for state treasurer.

The Pew survey also asked respondents to identify which news source had been the "most helpful" to them overall. About 49 percent said some form of television, either local, cable or network news, cable news talk shows or late night comedy shows, had been the most helpful.  About half as many, 28 percent, said Internet sources had been the most helpful, tying the Internet with cable news as the most helpful medium. Some respondents identified particular social media platforms as most helpful: 4 percent said Facebook, 3 percent said the websites of traditional news organizations, 2 percent said web-only sources and 1 percent said YouTube or Twitter.

The report is based on telephone interviews conducted Oct. 18-21 among a national sample of 1,005 adults living in the U.S. The sampling error is 3.7 percentage points.