Research - Journalism Interactive

Embargoed for Release
Thursday, July 26, 2001, 1 p.m.

Journalism Interactive

New Attitudes, Tools and Techniques
Change Journalism's Landscape

A Study Conducted for:
Associated Press Managing Editors
Pew Center for Civic Journalism
National Conference of Editorial Writers

Conducted by:
Campaign Study Group
Springfield, Virginia

Detailed Findings Part One

Reader Interaction and Outreach

Editors were asked if the future health of the newspaper industry depends upon more interactivity with readers, less interactivity, or the same amount as now. A resounding nine out of 10 editors responding to this study answered "more interactivity" is required. Less than one-half of 1 percent said less.

Those who said they currently practice civic journalism (93%) were only slightly more likely than those who say they do not (86%) to see a need for greater interactivity. Female respondents signaled a slightly greater appetite for interactivity. Among the 84 women who responded to the survey, 94 percent said that greater interactivity was the key to the industry's future. The comparable figure among the 252 male respondents was 89 percent.

There was a negligible difference in responses by editors representing the smallest and largest newspapers. Fifty-seven editors representing newspapers with circulations of 100,000 or more answered the question, with 86 percent of them suggesting that more interaction with readers would be crucial. Among the 198 editors who answered the question and work at newspapers with circulations under 50,000, 93 percent concurred with that view.

The simplest forms of direct interaction provide readers an opportunity to contact reporters and editors. Among survey respondents, 80 percent report giving readers one or more options to obtain the e-mail addresses of reporters.

  • Nearly six out of 10 newspapers represented in the study provide the address with every story.

  • Slightly more than one-third post some or all of the e-mail addresses on a Web site.

  • Six percent provide the address only for larger enterprise stories.

  • Seven percent do so only with the permission of their reporters.

Forty-four percent of the editors publish their reporters' telephone numbers with every story. More than one-quarter post some or all of the telephone numbers on their Web site. Slightly more than a third of the editors say their newspapers never publish their reporters' phone numbers.

Both practices are more prevalent at the larger newspapers than at the smallest. While two-thirds of the editors representing the largest papers said publishing an e-mail address was the general rule where they work, 55 percent of those working for the smallest newspapers could also make this claim. Thirty-eight percent of the papers with circulations between 20,000 and 49,999 publish their reporters' telephone numbers with every story. Fifty-four percent of the largest papers do so.

These practices are also more prevalent among civic journalism adherents. Among practitioners, 63 percent publish e-mail addresses and 51 percent publish telephone numbers with every story. The comparable figures among non-practitioners are 51 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

Nearly eight out of 10 respondents said their papers have established e-mail, voice mail or Web site tip lines and 78 percent noted they had op-ed community forum pages. Fifty-one percent allow visitors into their news meetings, and half publish reader feedback other than letters to the editor.

With few exceptions, larger papers with more resources and bigger news holes are more likely than their smaller counterparts to employ a variety of outreach mechanisms. While twenty-seven of the sixty-one (44%) papers with circulations in excess of 100,000 have established an ombudsman, just seventeen of the 205 (8%) smallest papers have done so. Thirty-five (57%) of the largest papers have established Web chat rooms. The comparable figure among the smallest papers is 29 (14%).

Editors who say they engage in civic journalism are far more likely than those who say they do not to report that their organizations allow visitors in news meetings, have tip lines, have Web chat groups, and publish reader feedback beyond the letters to the editor. For example, while 62 percent of civic journalism practitioners say that visitors can attend news meetings, just 38 percent of non-practitioners report being that open.

Q15. What other ways do you interact with your readers on ongoing coverage?

Circulation

C J Adherent

Total

20,000-49,000

50,000-99,999

100,000+

Yes

No

E-Mail/Voice-Mail/Web Tip Line

79%

74%

84%

90%

83%

72%

Op-Ed Community Forum Pages

78%

76%

79%

82%

78%

74%

News Meeting Visitors

51%

47%

53%

62%

62%

38%

Published Reader Feedback – Not Letters to the Editor

50%

48%

51%

57%

56%

44%

Reader Articles

47%

49%

45%

41%

48%

45%

Reader Advisory Boards

42%

40%

46%

41%

47%

36%

Web Chat Groups

27%

14%

35%

57%

31%

20%

Community Publishing

16%

16%

15%

15%

17%

15%

Ombudsman/Reader Advocate

15%

8%

12%

44%

18%

13%

Self-Publishing Opportunities

9%

11%

3%

10%

9%

7%

Other

20%

24%

12%

21%

23%

21%

Note: Respondents could check as many items as applied.

Nearly nine out of 10 editors said they think it is proper for a newspaper to engage the public on hot topics as they arise in the community. While 98 percent of civic journalism adherents held this view, a still healthy 79 percent of non-adherents did so, as well. More than 90 percent of the editors representing papers with circulations under 100,000 viewed this as an acceptable role for their paper, but so did 83 percent of those representing larger papers.

Fifty-six percent of the respondents indicated that their newspapers have convened conversations about key community issues outside of the newsroom. Civic journalism adherents (71%) were far more likely than non-adherents (39%) to report this form of outreach. Larger papers (62%) were only slightly more likely than their smallest counterparts (55%) to have done so.

Among the 200 editors who said that their papers had convened such gatherings, 64 percent reported using town-hall style meetings, 56 percent mentioned focus groups, 44 percent said they have employed discussion groups or study circles and 23 percent said their papers had sponsored full-blown issue conferences. Just 1 percent mentioned using mock juries to debate a problem.


Note: Multiple responses accepted.

When such meetings take place, key editors and reporters make up the bulk of the attendees. However, nearly half of all those reporting such meetings said that they are open to anyone in the newsroom who wishes to attend.

More than seven out of 10 editors said their newspapers offer readers one or more avenues other than letters to the editor for publishing their own stories or ideas. Civic journalism practitioners (69%) are apparently no more likely than non-practitioners (70%) to give readers these kinds of options.

Among the newspapers that make such publishing options available to readers, 72 percent do so on their editorial pages. However, 46 percent of these papers allow self-publishing options within the regular news pages. This option is most prevalent at the smallest papers (54%), but is hardly rare at the largest (39%).

Despite all of this outreach, 73 percent of the editors say they are not satisfied with their newsroom's level of interactivity with readers. While this dissatisfaction is most acute at the smallest papers (76%), there is plenty of dissatisfaction at the largest papers (62%), as well.

In fact, if the readers are anything like the editors perceive them to be, the windows of opportunity for interaction may be relatively narrow and difficult to hit. The editors were asked to assign percentages of their readers to three categories-streakers, strollers and scholars-that describe the time frames readers spend with the newspaper. Editors collectively placed slightly more than one-third of the nation's readers into the "streaker" category. The mean percentage of readers assigned to the "stroller" category was 41, and on average only about one-quarter of the readers were deemed to be "scholars."

When asked whether they use the tools and techniques of civic journalism, 45 percent said yes. That figure was higher at the largest papers (52%) than at the smallest (43%). Given some of the other responses relating to engaging and involving readers, some who claim not to practice it may very well do so.

That point is underscored by the editors' stated attitudes toward the concept. When given four possible reactions to the notion of civic journalism, a total of 66 percent said they either embrace the label or like the philosophy and tools. Roughly one-fifth of the respondents said they embrace the label and nearly half said they like the philosophy and tools, but dislike the label. Editors representing the largest papers were more likely than those at smaller papers to say that they either recoil from the label or dislike the philosophy, the tools and the label.

The Perceived Role of Newspapers in the Community

Editors were asked to rank-order six possible roles their newspaper might play in their community-investigative watchdog, news breaker, disseminator of the facts, knowledge provider or news explainer, community steward and catalyst for community conversation. Space was also provided for the inclusion of additional categories, as warranted. This created a 7-point scale, where 7 was the highest possible rating and 1 was the lowest.

Nearly one-third (32%) of those responding to the question gave their highest rating to providing knowledge and explaining the news. Another 30 percent said that breaking news or getting the story first was the most important role played by their paper. Investigative watchdog was ranked most important by 16 percent of respondents, followed by catalyst for community conversation at 11 percent, community steward at 10 percent and disseminator of facts at 7 percent.

Taken together, the non-traditional roles of community steward and conversation catalyst collectively draw more support than the role of investigative watchdog.


Note: Percentages may add to more than 100% because some editors created ties in their rankings.

By a narrow margin, editors also accorded the concept of newspapers as explainers and knowledge providers more second-place rankings than any of the other possible roles. Twenty-two percent of all editors rated this as the second most important role played by their paper. The roles of news breaker (21%) and investigative watchdog (18%) received the next most second-place votes. The combined roles of conversation catalyst and community steward garnered 28 percent in the second-place rankings.

Relatively few editors appear to think that it is important for newspapers to play a limited role of disseminating facts and nothing more: 7 percent rated that as the most important role played by their paper; just 14 percent rated it as high as the second most important role.


Note: Percentages may add to more than 100% because some editors created ties in their rankings.

As a way of creating a single ranking from the 360 separate rankings supplied by the editors, a mean score was computed. Seven totals were calculated for each possible role by multiplying the rank (i.e. 7) by the number of editors assigning it that rank. These seven totals were then summed and divided by the total number of respondents to create the average score for that role. Respondents who could not rank any given role were excluded from the calculation.

Given the strong and consistent pattern at the top of the scale, it is not surprising that once mean scores were calculated the explanatory role of newspapers was considered by more editors as the most important role they have to play in their communities. News breaking and investigative reporting ranked second and third, respectively. Among the six roles suggested, that of just disseminating facts brought up the rear.

 Role

Mean Ranking
(Out of a possible 7)

News Explainer

5.09

News Breaker

4.77

Investigative Watchdog

4.65

Catalyst for Community Conversation

4.05

Community Steward

3.91

Disseminator of Just the Facts

3.71

There was strong agreement that newspapers "have a broader community role beyond printing the news." When asked whether newspapers should play such a broader role in the community, 87 percent of the editors responded in the affirmative. That overwhelming consensus was shared across the circulation spectrum, although civic journalism adherents were more likely to hold this view than were non-adherents.

Q19a. Should a newspaper have a broader community
role beyond printing the news?

Circulation

C J Adherent

Total

20,000-49,000

50,000-99,999

100,000 +

Yes

No

Yes

87%

88%

88%

82%

97%

76%

No

13%

12%

12%

18%

3%

24%

When asked what that role should be, many respondents cited "leader and agenda setter" and "community leader and good corporate citizen." Said one editor, expressing the first notion, newspapers "can provide vision as much or more so than elected officials." Another noted, "we shape and frame debates." Referring to the newspaper as corporate citizen, one editor remarked that the newspaper "should be part of the community, not outside looking in." Another said that "as a local business and employer, the paper has civic duties, just like any other business."

As the following quotes illustrate, many editors see newspapers having multiple roles to play.

"Any community newspaper helps set the political agenda by what it chooses to cover and not cover. Good ones hold up a mirror to their communities, and most of us see things staring back at us that we want to change. The newspaper can also help the community develop options by investigating how similar communities handled the same problems."

"The newspaper should help set the agenda and be an agent for positive change."

"Newspapers should also be the conveyor of public conversations drawing out solutions from the community."

"We should help build community by making people feel connected and by providing editorial and news leadership on important community lines."

"The newspaper is the community gathering place. That puts us in a leadership role, whether we wanted it or not."

"We need a relationship with the community members so we know what is important and what issues need to be covered."

"We're a citizen and a watchdog as well."

"The newspaper is an emotional, not an informational experience."

The various perceived roles offered in a open-ended question can be summarized as follows:

Broader Community Role

Percent

Define Agenda/Be Opinion Leader

24%

Be a Community Leader/Good Corporate Citizen

24%

Open/Facilitate Discussion of Issues

16%

Catalyst for Change/Seek Solutions

16%

As Member of Community, Contribute Staff/Monetary Resources

11%

Encourage Community Building

8%

Educate/Explain Complex Issues

8%

Watchdog/Seek Truth

4%

Other

4%

Sponsor Events

3%

Reader Concerns

There is nearly universal agreement that, as part of the news gathering process, it is important to ascertain what is on readers' minds, and virtually all of the editors participating in this study report using such information to help shape their news coverage.

An overwhelming 99 percent of those surveyed responded in the affirmative when asked whether they viewed such information as important, and 98 percent said they currently use such information to shape coverage. These sentiments remained virtually constant across the circulation spectrum. Whether or not the editors say they currently practice civic journalism, editors across the country have largely bought into these notions of reader-newsroom interaction.

While virtually every editor supports gathering information from readers and using it to fashion coverage, reader polls are not necessarily the method of choice. Overall, 57 percent of the editors responding to the survey said their newsrooms currently do not use polls to help spot trends important to their news coverage. Forty-three percent said their newsrooms use surveys for this purpose.

Larger newspapers are far more likely than their smaller counterparts to utilize survey research in this way. Among respondents representing newspapers with circulations of 100,000 or more, 63 percent said their newsrooms use polls for this purpose. Slightly more than one-third (35%) of those representing the smallest papers reported using surveys to guide their coverage as did roughly half (52%) of the midsize newspapers.

Those who say their newsrooms currently use civic journalism tools are significantly more likely than those who say they do not to report using surveys to guide news coverage. Among self-professed civic journalism adherents, 52 percent say their newsrooms use polls to help spot news trends, while only 31 percent of non-adherents do so.

Report continued in Detailed Findings Part Two...

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[Detailed Findings 3] [Topline Results] [Press Release]