Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Online crebility gap

A survey of 1,251 editors and 500 members of the general public found some big differences in how they perceive online journalism.

For example, the public is far more tolerant than editors of letting web users remain anonymous when they post comments on a newspaper's website.

The public also is more likely than editors to see the benefit of having reporters express their opinions online.

These are some of the findings of a study just published by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri and the Associated Press Managing Editors. (An executive summary is at the end of this post.
When asked “do you think it is a good idea or bad idea that a website does not require
names?” 64% of the editors thought it was a bad idea to allow anonymity, and 24% a good idea. Meanwhile, the public was split almost evenly: 40% thought it was a bad idea, and 45% a good idea.

Half of the public surveyed believed that “journalists joining the conversation online
and giving personal views” would be either somewhat or very beneficial to good
journalism online, compared to a combined 27% of the editors thinking so.

The study doesn't go into an explanation of the difference, but one interpretation could be that the public wants reporters to explain what events mean rather than just describing them.

Editors are far more worried about the practice of journalists giving personal views: 58% thought it would be either somewhat or very harmful to good journalism online.

Other findings:

The online audience believes in basics of good journalism: getting the facts right, verifying information, correcting errors, labeling news and opinion. Their belief that these things are beneficial matches editors' viewpoints.

The readers still support clear labels for news and advertising, but they are more likely than editors to find benefits in convenient links from news to related advertising.


Executive Summary
The Online Credibility Gap: Local Readers and the Newsroom

Why This Research Was Undertaken
Across the country, newspapers are swiftly expanding online news coverage.
And, as that trend continues, the mixing of print and web cultures raises questions inside the newsroom and some confusion outside.

Can, and should, news organizations monitor and edit the free-flowing public
conversation on their web sites, comment that sometimes veers far from traditional civil discourse, with postings that are racist, accusatory and crude?

Are news organizations establishing priorities, policies and practices for web-based
journalism that serve the overall community?
How can and should journalists and the public share responsibility for creating good
journalism on the web?
These questions and others led the Associated Press Managing Editors and the Donald
W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at Missouri to survey editors and citizens about their views of the credibility of news on the web.
APME is a professional, non-profit organization of top editors at more than 1,500
newspapers affiliated with The Associated Press. Its mission is to assist editors in coping creatively and effectively with newsroom management challenges. During the past
decade, APME took the national lead in helping newsrooms incorporate attention to news
credibility and community connections into the daily life of American journalism.

The Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) focuses on studies in journalism values,
practices and technologies, and the role of journalism in democratic societies. The
Institute was established in 2004 with an award of $31million from the Donald W.
Reynolds Foundation.

The Online Journalism Credibility Project is intended to create discussion,
collaboration and action by newspaper editors, online news leaders and the public to
establish model policies, practices and programs for trustworthy online news coverage.

Between August and October of 2007, the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute
(RJI), in partnership with the Associated Press Managing Editors (APME), conducted a
comprehensive study of credibility of online local journalism. The purpose of the study was to examine opinions of the general public as well as newsroom editors regarding the credibility of
online local news content, interaction between newsroom and readers, and the attributes that comprise good journalism practice online.
As of October 12, 2007, 500 interviews were randomly completed with adults 18 years of
age or older throughout the United States, as well as 1,251 interviews with newsroom editors selected from U.S. daily newspapers. The surveys were conducted by the Center for Advanced Social Research (CASR) at the Missouri’s School of Journalism.
What follows are insights from the survey.

Newsroom transformation
-- Of the 1,251 daily newspapers editors, 491 (39.2%) were print editors, 241 (19.3%) were online editors, and 519 (41.5%) were responsible for both print and online.
Use of online local news
-- Of the 500 adults interviewed, 32% went online for local news. Of the users, 67%
sought out local news, 25% happened to come across it, and 8% reported “some of both.”
-- 37% of the general public users went to the website of a newspaper for local news, 28% went to the website of a television station, 26% went to an independent website (such as MSN, Yahoo, Google, etc.), and six percent went to “others.”

Trustworthiness of local news content online
-- When asked “How trustworthy do you find the local news content on your news
organization’s website?” on a seven-point scale (7 = very trustworthy), the editors gave a rating of 6.61. Similarly, the public that went online for local news gave a rating of 5.60. This suggests that both the public and editors highly trusted the local news content online. (For the general public, “website” was defined as the site they most frequently visit for local news; for editors, it was defined as their newspaper’s website.)
-- Comparing the trustworthiness of what was online with that of the sponsoring news
organization, 74% of the editors and 75% of the public were indifferent. Nearly one fourth of the editors (24%) trusted print newspaper more, compared to 15% of the public.
Three percent of the editors trusted web report more, compared to 10% of the public.

Interaction between newsroom and readers
-- Two-thirds of the general public users of online local news (67%) thought the websites they most frequently visited invited users to comment on news stories and/or take part in online discussions of specific tops or issues, compared to 78% of the editors. Meanwhile,
-- 13% of the public users either were not sure or did not know whether websites had the function, compared to 1% of the editors.
-- 68% of the editors knew their websites did not require those who comment to provide
their real names, more than 53% of the public users saying so. In addition, 35% of the
public were either not sure or did not know, compared to nine percent of the editors.
-- Similarly, half of the public (50%) thought the websites they most frequently visited for local news invited users to comment without giving their names, while 35% were not sure of the policy on anonymity. In comparison, 58% of the editors
knew that their websites invited users to comment without giving their names, while 10% were not sure of their paper’s online policy regarding anonymity.

-- When asked “do you think it is a good idea or bad idea that a website does not require names?”
-- 64% of the editors thought it was a bad idea, and 24% a good idea. Meanwhile,
40% of the public thought it was a bad idea, and 45% a good idea, showing more split on this issue than did the editors. The difference was statistically significant.
-- Regarding the likelihood of their posting a comment if they must provide their names, 27% of the public said “very likely,” 20% “somewhat likely,” 20% “somewhat unlikely,” and 27% “very unlikely,” suggesting that public opinion is split.

Attributes of good journalism practice online
Twenty-five question items were used to explore which attributes were thought to
comprise good journalism online by both editors and the public. Responses were coded
on a 7-point scale ranging from “1” (very harmful to good journalism online) to “7” (very beneficial to good journalism online). Further analysis resulted in three attributes of good journalism online. They are labeled as “basics of good journalism,” “interaction with readers,” and “depth of local coverage.”

-- Both the public and editors thought all the basics such as “verifying information,”
“getting the facts right,” “correcting mistakes,” and both journalists and users “taking responsibility for accuracy” should be practiced to support good journalism online.
-- A combined 50% of the public believed that “journalists joining the conversation online and giving personal views” would be either somewhat or very beneficial to good
journalism online, compared to a combined 27% of the editors thinking so. Meanwhile, a
combined 58% of the editors thought the practice would be either somewhat or very
harmful to good journalism online, significantly higher than 36% of the public.
-- Both groups thought that “asking for user comments on many stories” would be
beneficial to good journalism online. In response to “requiring users who participate to state their real identities,” a combined 70% of the editors thought it would support good journalism online, compared to a combined 45% of the public thinking so.
-- A combined 45% of the public thought “inviting users to participate without using their real identities” would be either somewhat or very beneficial to good journalism online, compared to a combined 22% of the editors saying so.
-- A majority of both the public and editors agreed that it would be beneficial to good journalism online if journalists (1) “provide depth by links to content published by other sources,” (2) “provide depth by providing many layers of content produced by local journalists,” and (3) “provide depth by providing databases or similar information that users can explore on their own to find answers to their questions” online.
-- Both the public (74%) and editors (69%) agreed that “applying same standards to news produced by citizens as to the news written by journalists” would be beneficial to good journalism online. A combined 92% of the editors thought “creating content intended to attract a diverse group of users” would be either somewhat or very beneficial to good journalism online, compared to 68% of the public;
-- In response to “allowing citizens to report their own stories in their own ways,” there were two similar normal distribution patterns. In editors, 44% thought it would be somewhat or very beneficial to good journalism online, 38% thought it would be
harmful, and 18% were neutral. Among the public, 49% believed it would be beneficial,
37% harmful, and 15% neutral.
-- 49% of the editors thought “letting users’ interests and views determine what ideas and opinions are posted online” would be either somewhat or very beneficial to good
journalism online, 33% harmful, and 18% neutral. Similarly, 45% of the public thought
it would be beneficial, 39% harmful, and 15% neutral.
-- 91% of the editors and 72% of the public thought “journalists actively seeking varied viewpoints from people to comment on the news” would be somewhat or very beneficial to good journalism online. Likewise, 92% of the editors and 73% of the public believed “giving the public ways to provide information for news stories” would be somewhat or very beneficial to good journalism online.
-- 88% of the editors and 79% of the public believe “journalists enforcing standards on such matters as crude language and personal attacks” will support good journalism
online. 70% of the editors and 74% of the public thought “users enforcing standards on
such matters as crude language and personal attacks” would be somewhat or very
beneficial to good journalism online.
-- Regarding “journalists limiting their roles to being independent observers and producing fair news coverage or clearly labeled commentary,” 92% of the editors and 91% of the public believe it will be somewhat or very beneficial to good journalism online.
-- Concerning “journalists joining the conversation online and giving personal views,” the two groups showed different opinions. In the editors, 27% thought it will be beneficial to good journalism online, 58% harmful, and 15% neutral. In comparison, 50% of the public said it will be beneficial, 36% harmful, and 14% neutral.

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