Blogging journalists: survey results pt.1: context and methodology

Back in June I distributed an online survey to find out how journalists with blogs felt their work had been affected by the technology. 200 blogging journalists responded in total, from 30 different countries.

The responses paint an interesting picture: in generating ideas and leads, in gathering information, in news production and post-publication, and most of all in the relationship with the audience, the networked, iterative and conversational nature of the blog format is changing how many journalists work in a number of ways.

However, this is by no means universal, and there are notable variations between industries and sectors.

Over the next week I will be publishing the results on the Online Journalism Blog, covering a different stage of the journalistic process in each post.  But to begin with, here’s some academic context:

Blogs and journalism: a little background

Blogs have become part of the editorial furniture. As of this year, 70% of US newspapers (PEJ, 2008), 85% of UK news organisations, and 44% of European news organisations (Oriella PR Network, 2008) were offering journalist-authored blogs, and all the signals from editors and management suggested these figures would continue to rise.

A number of studies have focused on how newsroom cultures have reacted to the rise of the online newsroom (Boczkowski 2004, Friend & Singer 2007, Paterson & Domingo, 2008), and how news organisation blogs themselves have adopted the format (Singer, 2005; Robinson, 2006); and much has been written of the potential of blogs for journalism as a whole (Gillmor 2004, Wall 2005, Beckett 2008), but few have looked at the perceptions of journalists themselves of how the blogging has affected their processes – a gap this research aimed to address.

Although blogs have existed for over a decade, in their short history the format has undergone a number of generic developments: beginning as lists of links to similar sites, then becoming more diary-like, with accompanying cults of personality (Blood, 2000) and more recently increasingly adopted by news organisations, who have started blogs by their own journalists, employed bloggers on their staff, teamed up with blogging and citizen journalism operations (Gant, 2007), or targeted them for takeovers (The Outlook 2007, MacManus 2008).

It might be argued that this has in turn affected the generic qualities of blogs once more, and more recently there have been suggestions that blogging has lost its relational focus in the jostle for attention (MacManus, 2008), or that successful bloggers curb their creativity in the consciousness of a wider audience (Lowrey & Latta, in Paterson & Domingo, 2008) while much of the personal material that was previously published on blogs is now being published on ‘lifestreaming’ and ‘microblogging’ platforms like Twitter (Perez, 2008).

Of particular interest to this research is what has happened to journalistic processes in this meeting of cultures, particularly as some theorists have argued journalism is in a process of adapting in the face of technological, social and economic changes (Lowrey, 2006; Wall 2005; Robinson 2006).

Lowrey (2006) sees blogging as an occupation, noting that bloggers see themselves as part of a community that shares values, rituals and language, organising conferences, and exploring codes of ethics. As Singer notes (2005), professional journalists have had to negotiate this occupational culture alongside their own, and these cultures differ in important ways.

Blogs, for example, are typically opinionated, while US journalism at least aspires to objectivity (this is not the case in the UK – see Hampton, 2008); blogs treat the audience as a co-creator, while traditional journalism treats them as a passive recipient; and whereas blog journalism is incomplete and fragmented, traditional journalism is structured and closed (Lowrey 2006; Wall, 2005: 162).

Ultimately, Lowrey argues, it is “the organisation of production [that] is the most fundamental distinction between journalism and blogging” (2006: 480), and this is what this research is primarily concerned with.

Methodology

To consider whether journalists feel blogging has affected their working processes an online survey was distributed in June and July 2008. A self-completing survey method was chosen due to its efficiency, scalability and global reach (Robson, 2002). A diverse range of distribution channels, both public and internal, were used in an attempt to attract a diversity of respondents, and both open and closed questions were used to draw a large response and allow respondents to answer in their own terms (Bryman, 2001).

Respondents came from all sectors of the news industry. Almost half of respondents worked in the newspaper industry, and a third were online-only or freelance. Television, radio and magazine journalists accounted for the lowest proportions. Half of respondents worked in the US or Canada, and a further fifth in the UK, with the remainder coming from mainland Europe, South America, Australia, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

The journalists covered a wide range of sectors, and most covered more than one. Local journalism made up the largest proportion (43%), but media and technology correspondents also contributed heavily. Along with a number of well-represented areas such as business, politics, lifestyle and culture, there was a ‘long tail’ of small numbers of respondents covering ‘Other’ areas ranging from education and health to travel and the environment.

Percentage of respondents by sector

In analysing the data I have attempted to take these factors into account and to use the differences between industries and sectors as a valid finding in itself, rather than focus on the  figures coming from the entire sample. It is important to note that generalising from this study should be done with caution, given the diversity of nationality, industry, sector and blogging experience of respondents. The study is intended to highlight a number of areas that warrant further research.

The study takes as its structure the three elements identified by Quinn and Lamble (2007) as constituting the basic parts of the journalistic process: generating ideas, gathering information, and production. It also looks at the relationship with the audience, and post-publication, both of which are frequently identified as areas undergoing change as a result of networked technologies such as blogging (Gillmor 2004, Bruns 2005, Beckett 2008).

If there’s any research you think would add to the context of this study, please let me know in the comments

Read the rest of the report here:

Part 2: Blogs and news ideas: “The canary in the mine”

Part 3: Blogs and story research: “We swapped info”

Part 4: Blogs and news production: “I think in hyperlinks, even when working in print”

Part 5: Post-publication: “You’ve got to be ready for that conversation”

Part 6: Blogging and the audience relationship: “The best stories are a result of incredible conversations”

Part 7: Discussion and conclusion: “The writing on the wall”

47 thoughts on “Blogging journalists: survey results pt.1: context and methodology

  1. Colin van Hoek

    great blog, for my this is just the whole story together and in a comfortable style. I've exually never read such a long peace of text on the internet. Well done! Looking forward to the other parts. Colin van Hoek

    Reply
  2. Matt Wardman

    A good piece, and I look forward to reading the rest. One detail: >blogs treat the audience as a co-creator A good number of blogs TRY to do this, but do not get many comments, so cannot. I'd be interested in any comment on that factor.

    Reply
  3. Colin van Hoek

    @ MATT WARDMAN: I think it depends on which blogs we are talking about. All the blogs on the web? Only the so called newsblogs or just the blogs which are written by journalist from newspapers and broadcasters? I agree with you that a lot of the blogs in general do not have a co-creating audience.

    Reply
  4. TheWorstofPerth

    I think it is often the newsblogs that are the last to get the cocreator thing. Journos have traditionally owned the story, and they can be reluctant to let go.

    Reply
  5. Paul Bradshaw

    I meant blogs in general. I'm talking about generic qualities. The research is aimed at finding out if those qualities are taken on by journalists.

    Reply
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  15. Clare Cook

    Hi Paul, I will shortly be workng on a similar study from 'the other side' looking at how the conversation has affected the user. I am keen to read the original survey but the link comes to a dead end. Any chance of seeing the questionnaire you posted….

    Reply
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  23. Vrbo

    This is a great peace, very informative and it allows me to take the correct approach when starting my own blog as well. I am researching currently what the best method of treating comments, and stories and what people prefer the most. This way I can please everyone with my unique content!

    Thanks again!

    Reply
  24. John Davis

    This definitely added some great insight… I feel blogging definitely adds interaction and keep a journalist in touch with his audience, whether it be adding a different angle to the article or commenting on it.

    Reply
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  26. Music Store - Young Composers

    “Blogs, for example, are typically opinionated, while US journalism at least aspires to objectivity”

    I don’t see anything wrong with collecting peoples’ opinions. So what if blogs are opinionated, people are entitled to their own opinions, this is what makes America. But the power of a blog, is that you can collect opinions from any point of view. Blogs are not controlled, but this also allows for freedom of speech….doesn’t this lead to objectivity?

    And how do you know Journalism isn’t biased?

    Reply
  27. DSi

    There is alot of generlization here, it really is more of a sectoral difference in many of the cases above. I know newblogs are higly different and hold different rules to a personal blog, so a difference should be made there

    Reply
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  31. Gadget Chris

    In my opinion I do not see any problems with collecting personal opinions – at the end of the day they don’t have to give you anything. If blogs are opinionated then readers aren’t forced to read them – everyone is entitled to their own opinion. The best thing about blogs are that they are unregulated and are not controlled thus allowing for freedom of speech and a better experience for the user in the end. The reader has to make up their own mind about whether the material is worthwhile or not.

    Reply
  32. Essay

    Certainly it also looks at the relationship with the audience, and post-publication, both of which are frequently identified as areas undergoing change as a result of networked technologies such as blogging.

    Reply
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