Bad Marks for Citizen Journalists

July 15, 2010 • Digital News, Ethics and Quality • by

Several recent studies rank traditional media above newer formats.

Concerning interactivity, “old” forms of media function better than their reputations suggest, while new media like blogs and social networks have a lot of catching up to do in the quality department. This consensus came as the result of several international studies presented in Singapore at the world congress of the International Communication Association (ICA).

A research team from the University of Missouri analysed the Web editions of 187 established daily newspapers and 106 – some award-winning – citizen blogs and  journalism websites. In many relevant categories the Web editions of U.S. daily newspapers were rated more favourably by researchers. And not only did the established papers lead in the matter of interactivity, but their Web editions also had a wider range of topics, provided more information and showed higher technical quality. Furthermore, a surprisingly large number of citizen blogs only rarely linked to other websites.

More than 100 political blogs from the Netherlands were investigated by a research team at the University of Amsterdam. The results are quite disillusioning: Most of the bloggers were found to be Caucasian males of middle age who practice exalted professions. It seems the blogosphere’s power to diversify political discourse is somewhat exaggerated.

The political bloggers sourced their information predominantly from the mass media, and only seldom investigated news independently to complement information provided by the traditional media. Only rarely did bloggers pick up local or regional topics; national politics dominated the forefront.

A team from the University of Arkansas analysed the quality of conventional letters to the editors and compared them with feedback in response to published articles via commentary functions on the Internet, using the debate surrounding a 2008 corruption scandal at the University of Arkansas as the focus. The team, however, only analysed 25 letters to the editor from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (a daily paper) along with 96 blog entries and commentaries on the website of the Arkansas Times. Thus, the results cannot be generalised because of the small random sample. Still, the newspaper performed better here as well: discussion contributions were more versatile while on the Internet users argued less constructively and ranted more.

In turn, the studies presented in Singapore did provide one interesting surprise. A team from the College of Staten Island (City University of New York) examined how journalists and bloggers reported on a revised version of the informant protection for journalists, a debate which is revelent for bloggers as it poses the question of whether bloggers should obtain a legal status similar to that of journalists. In this case, bloggers discussed the question in a fashion that was less self-serving than the researchers had expected.

Translated by Tina Bettels


Papers presented at the annual conference of the International Communication Association  22-26th June in Singapore:

“Audience Responses to Controversy: Medium Comparison between Letters to the Editor and Blogs” 
Donna Lampkin Stephens, University of Central Arkansas, USA, 
Nokon Heo, University of Central Arkansas, USA

“Comparing Legacy News Sites With Citizen News and Blog Sites: Where’s the Best Journalism?
” Margaret Ellen Duffy, University of Missouri, USA
, Esther Thorson, University of Missouri, USA
, Mi Rosie Jahng, University of Missouri – Columbia, USA

“A Comparative Content Analysis of Newspaper and Weblog Reporting on Attempts to Pass a Media Shield Law” 
C.W. Anderson, College of Staten Island, The City University of New York (CUNY), USA

“What’s Journalism Got to Do With It? Political Blogs and Bloggers” 
Tom Bakker, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands 
Klaus Schoenbach, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands 
Claes H. De Vreese, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands


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