Journalists Are Still Wary of Online News
Study finds Internet news consumers are more inclined to trust
By Chris Harvey
Harvey, a former AJR managing editor and a former associate editor at
washingtonpost.com, teaches Web writing and publishing at the University of Maryland.
Journalists are concerned about the credibility of digital news, but the
online public says it's a nonissue.
That's a key finding of a survey commissioned by the Online News
Association to gauge perceptions of how well online sites are meeting
basic journalistic standards.
"The public is more sure of us than our own colleagues," says Rich
Jaroslovsky, president of the Online News Association and a senior
editor at the Wall Street Journal.
"It's our peers who don't frankly understand what we do or know,"
adds Michael Silberman, an MSNBC.com managing editor.
Online readers and journalists across all mediums were surveyed
between January and September in a study funded by the John S. and James
L. Knight Foundation. Study highlights were presented this fall at a
conference of Internet journalists in Berkeley, California.
The survey included 1,027 members of the U.S. online public and 1,397
journalists. A smaller group of journalists was interviewed face-to-face
to flesh out thoughts and concerns.
The majority of the Internet news consumers were either neutral or
positive on the credibility question: When asked if online news sites
were their most trusted source for news, 13 percent agreed, 44 percent
said they were neutral or had not yet formed an opinion, and 43 percent
The journalists inaccurately assessed the mood of the public,
erroneously predicting 79 percent of them would disagree with the
Among other findings: Both the public and journalists viewed national
news sources as more credible than local ones. When asked to rank 16
types of news outlets, 95 percent of journalists ranked national
newspapers as their most credible sources for news. Of the public, 83
percent ranked cable TV news most credible.
Study codirectors Martha Stone and Howard I. Finberg wondered if the
disparity between the public's and the journalists' perceptions was due
to a difference in standards. "Are the media's standards for evaluating
credibility higher than the public's?" their report asks. "Or is there
something the media perceives or knows about the ethics and practices of
online news that the public does not know?"
Dianne Lynch, editorial director of the project, says some of the
concerns that journalists raised included:
whether editorial decisions at online news sites are being made by
if there's enough of a separation between editorial and advertising
decisions at digital news sites;
if downsizing and reorganizations hurt editorial quality and
Speakers at ONA's conference echoed some of those same concerns.
Keynoter Walter S. Mossberg, who created the Personal Technology column
in the Wall Street Journal, said although "there is a good body of
ethical journalism on the Web," he's "bothered by the power of the media
to mix up separate things" such as editorial and advertising content.
Douglas B. Feaver, executive editor of washingtonpost.com and
treasurer of ONA, says some early and much-publicized gaffes by news Web
sites such as a few made during the early days of the Monica Lewinsky
story may be resonating with professional journalists. He adds most of
the larger news Web sites have addressed the staffing question replacing
tech workers in their newsrooms with journalists. "We're hiring people
with journalistic skills," Feaver says.
Standards, he and other Web journalists stressed, are evolving.
Jaroslovsky says he's optimistic trust will grow with time. He likens
traditional journalists' apprehensions about Web news to those expressed
by broadcast journalists in the early 1980s when an upstart cable
network called CNN was seeking a spot in the White House press pool
alongside the three networks.
"It's déjà vu," he says.
Edited by Jill Rosen