News Leadership 3.0

April 08, 2008

Credibility study: It’s the engagement, stupid

- A new survey of editors and readers explores credibility of online news
- The public says personal viewpoints from journalists online are beneficial

How is your organization balancing traditional journalism values with new audience expectations?

A new survey on the credibility of online news brings into focus some old school vs new school tensions that news executives, other journalists—and the people who rely on them for news—face.

“The Online Credibility Gap,” sponsored by the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Associated Press Managing Editors, was released Tuesday via a Poynter News University Webinar. For all the details, read the full report package here.

This morning, I sat in on a Webinar exploring the survey hosted by Poynter’s NewsU and led by by John Bartosek, editor of The Palm Beach Post and chairman of APME’s Credibility Committee.

One top takeaway was the finding that a half the 161 readers surveyed thought it would be beneficial to have “journalists joining the conversation online and giving personal views.” In contrast, only about one fourth of the 1,200 editors surveyed felt that way, and nearly 60 percent thought it would be harmful. I suspect some of the editors on the “harmful” side had visions as they answered that question of journalists ranting and taking sides. My mental response to that thought was “Still?”

I think the public answer is less about wanting opinions and more about wanting engagement and transparency to be part of the information package. Years ago (pre digital revolution), as ombudsman at The Oregonian, I spoke or e-mailed with thousands of readers and worked on a newspaper credibility project. Even then it was clear that the same people who might distrust the motives of journalists they had never met were perfectly willing to trust a journalist they met or spoke with on the telephone. The Web has increased both the expectation—and the opportunity—to engage more fully. I would like to see some comments on how newsrooms are meeting this challenge.

In his NewsU presentation, Bartosek some practical steps editors may want to consider:
—Does your news organization have a clear policy for making online corrections and is it applied consistently?
—Do staff and readers understand the terms and conditions of using the Web site, particularly as it pertains to standards for comments? Do users know that they can report offensive or inappropriate comments and that the site will take action to remove them?

The survey also points to a divide between online news users and editors about whether anonymous comments should be allowed. More on that soon.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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