ARTICLE: Online journalism rarely meets all audience expectations

Picture: untitled by www_slon_pics, Pixabay license

When it comes to sourcing practices, online journalism often fails its audience’s expectations, a study from Finland suggests. Ville Manninen, of University of Jyväskylä, compared the expectations of young adult Finns to real-life sourcing practices in Finnish online journalism. An analysis of 36 news items from 3 newsrooms and 12 journalists revealed that, on average, only about half of this audience segment’s sourcing-related expectations are met.

The sample of analyzed news items comes from some of Finland’s largest and most established news organizations. It was gathered in two parts in 2013 and 2017. Because the results are quite similar throughout the sample, it is likely the unfortunate results represent a common trend in online journalism, Manninen argues.

Credible sources are common, verification rare

The analysis is based on data from two earlier studies, which included focus group interviews with audience members and observations at Finnish newsrooms. The focus group interviews revealed four sourcing-related expectations young Finnish adults have for online journalism: sufficient sourcing, using credible sources, not plagiarizing competitors, and verifying information. The author used these expectations as the criteria in analyzing the sourcing practices he observed at online news desks.

The use of highly credible sources was the only expectation that was usually met. The majority of news items on both years and each news organization met this criterion. Conversely, less than one-fifth of news items had been verified – again throughout the sample. Plagiarism and bare-bones sourcing were also rife.

Failing expectations puts audience trust in peril

Journalists may have valid reasons for their practices, but they are nonetheless dangerous if the audience expects something else, the author warns. Since sourcing is usually a “backstage” process, a misconceived set of expectations might survive for a long time. If then, suddenly, online journalists’ true practices came to light, the audience might feel betrayed and lose trust, the author explains.

If journalists wish to secure their audience’s trust, they need to match expectations and practices – and make the audience notice this. Matching could be done by either changing journalistic practices or educating the audience on what can be realistically expected of online journalism, Manninen proposes.

The article “Audience Expectations and Actual Sourcing Practices in Online Journalism” was published in Journalism Practice, and is available from the publisher’s website (free abstract).


Picture: untitled by www_slon_pics, Pixabay license

Disclosure: Manninen is a former Journalism Research News contributor.

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