Study: Editor-Reader Gap in News Sites

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By: ANICK JESDANUN

Newspaper readers agree with editors on the basics of what makes good journalism, but they are more apt to want looser rules for online conversations, a new study on news credibility has found.

Newspapers highly discourage anonymous remarks, for instance, and editors are more likely than readers to want that principle applied to reader comments online, according to the Online Journalism Credibility Study released Tuesday by the Associated Press Managing Editors group and the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri.

Some 70 percent of editors surveyed said requiring commenters to disclose their identities would support good journalism, while only 45 percent of the public did. Similarly, 58 percent of editors said letting journalists join online conversations and give personal views would harm journalism, but only 36 percent of the public agreed.

Expressions of personal views seem to help boost readers’ interest and trust in Web sites, said John `Bart” Bartosek, editor of The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Fla., and chairman of the credibility committee for the AP managing editors group.

“That’s contrary to most of the traditions we’ve all grown up with, to keep our opinions, viewpoints and personal lives out of our story,” Bartosek said. “There’s some indication that readers are looking for something more online. Whether it’s information about our expertise, our knowledge, our background, I’m not really sure.”

The study was designed to help gauge the priorities and practices newspapers should be establishing as they increasingly blend their print and Web operations. It produced few answers on how editors can meet reader expectations online without compromising credibility. The study’s sponsors said the results should lead to further research and newsroom discussions.

The study did find widespread agreement on basic practices such as the need to ensure accuracy and correct mistakes. Both editors and readers overwhelmingly supported fairness in news coverage and the labeling of commentary.

Editors and readers also agreed on the desirability of depth, such as links to content published elsewhere and databases or other information visitors can explore on their own.

“Many of us have come to recognize that the age of `We report it, and you read it and view it’ is over,” said Howard Finberg, director of interactive learning and NewsU at the Poynter Institute, a Florida think tank on journalism. “The audience has demanded much more.”

But what that “much more” should look like and how newspapers can stimulate conversations in their communities while maintaining the trust they have established remain unclear, Finberg said.

In other findings, both editors and readers said any online news items produced by readers should use the same standards journalists follow when reporting and writing news stories. Editors were more likely to say it is important to include varied viewpoints in news articles and create content to attract a diversity of readers.

The telephone study of 500 members of the public and 1,251 print and online editors from U.S. daily newspapers was conducted Aug. 23 to Oct. 12. The study had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points for the readers’ sample and 3 percentage points for the editors.

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