By Martin Kidston

A media survey conducted by the Greater Montana Foundation last fall wasn't completely full of surprises. Among the expectations, it found that a growing number of state residents are forgoing the morning paper for the Internet to access the news.

With consumers' preference for digital news growing, the organization founded to create quality broadcasting in the state looks to dig deeper with a follow up survey this fall on how Montanans use the Internet to access information, and from what sources.

“We want to find out in more depth, so that when people say they use the Internet, was does that mean?” said Bill Whitsitt, the foundation's chairman. “Are they going to traditional news sources or aggregates? We're just going to dig deeper and see what's there.”

Last year, the Greater Montana Foundation charged the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana to conduct a first-of-it's kind state survey exploring Montana's media habits.

The results of the survey found that Montanans are discerning readers with a primary interest in local news. Roughly 48 percent of Montanans named local news as most interesting, followed by national politics and weather at 31 percent, international affairs at 25 percentnand sports at 20 percent.

Just 17 percent of respondents named state politics as being of interest.

“The principal focus of the first survey was to identify the trends and values of most media consumers so we could use that information to guide our efforts,” Whitsitt said. “The biggest surprise was that jobs and the economy were so far ahead of anything else in terms of interest.”

The survey also found that 53 percent of Montana's got the news off the television, while 49 percent relied on digital news sources. Less than 30 percent relied on printed news and 25 percent on the radio.

The results also noted that nearly 84 percent of Montanans now have Internet access at home compared to the national average of 83 percent.

“The things we need to follow up on from a media standpoint is that Montana has reached the national level of Internet penetration,” Whitsitt said. “People may have thought that because we're so rural, that wasn't the case. We found that people use the Internet for news and information.”

Riding on the initial findings, the follow-up survey will focus exclusively on Internet use. Whitsitt said the study will likely take place in September.

“We want to periodically do a retest to see what that evolution might look like,” he said. “There are some indications that things are changing in regards to technology and use of the Internet. This will help us understand not only what the changes are, but also the velocity of change.”