With positive perceptions of news credibility continuing to wane, providing public explanations for news decisions is generally considered a meritorious step in the right direction. Unfortunately, however, journalists still seem to harbor a level of uncertainty when it comes to transparency.
A recent analysis published in the Newspaper Research Journal finds a disappointingly small number of top editors utilizing blogs to elucidate news decisions. Researchers Norman P. Lewis, Jeffrey Neely and Fangfang Gao of the University of Florida drew a sample of 280 U.S. daily newspapers for the analysis, finding that among the 280, only 39 of the papers had developed blogs operated by a high-ranking editor. Most were updated infrequently: of the 39, only 13 featured new posts at least once per week. As for the individual blog entries analyzed (621 in total, drawn from the 20 most recent postings per blog), a mere 34 actually addressed editorial decision-making. Of the 34 posts related to news decisions, only 25 addressed a mistake, and only five hinted at remorse.
When editors did manage to blog about their newspapers, they tended to either promote changes to the paper or discuss technical information. Which relegated the remainder of postings to personal musings related to politics, family matters and the like. Editors, in effect, were more openly “transparent” about which college they might send a child off to than, say, why a particular news story was favored over another.
As it stands, editors don’t seem to turn to blogs in attempt to disclose decisions about newsgathering. According to the researchers, this may stem from discomfort with blogging technology or hesitation to represent the newspaper via blogging, in addition to lack of time exacerbated by the merciless state of newspaper economics.
While operating a blog is definitely not the sole option for editors wishing to connect with readers and restore credibility, it’s an option. A cheap, relatively uncomplicated one.