Tag Archives: newspaper journalist

Survey showing that ‘trust in the UK’s national media is on the up’ actually shows nothing

Do you trust the telephone more than the internet, might have been a more valid question than that asked by media company Metrica’s UKPulse survey this week, when it questioned respondents on what they thought were the most trustworthy forms of media.

According to their press release (to which there is no link on the Metrica site), the study asked 13,000 UK adults whether they trusted the internet more than newspapers.

So far so good – it’s an important question. But in the company’s analysis of the results, it compared the internet with news sites.

“The internet in general has gained four percentage points, with 34% of UK adults now saying they trust its content. News sites as a specific online media type though do fair [sic] a lot better with 54% – more than national newspapers!”

That’s like comparing the percentage of people who trust the printed pages of books, with the percentage of people who trust Bill Bryson. It’s simply not a useful comparison.

The internet is the publishing medium, and is not comparable to TV channels or newspapers, which are editorially directed. The internet is the technology by which material is reproduced (in some cases the same material as that appearing in newspapers). When people said they trusted television they weren’t talking about their television sets, rather the channels they watch.

By and large, news site content is the same as the content of newspapers, so it seems bizarre that people trust online news sites more. What is even more baffling, is that blogs fared worse than news sites for gaining people’s trust. But, these very news sites have blogs.

I need persuading that any kind of fruitful analysis can be gleaned from this rather badly thought out study. When someone comes up with relevant and comparable categories then this type of study would be extremely revealing.

For example, do people trust a well-known newspaper journalist’s blog more than an unknown blogger’s?

Furthermore, as Adrian Monck points out in the comments on Roy Greenslade’s blog:

“The problem with trust polling is that it says nothing about the reliability of the media, whilst giving the appearance of providing an answer…”

Greenslade himself asks us about the significance of the increase in trust in UK media, but I think the real question to be asked here is how to profitably analyse people’s trust in different types of online media.

Does anyone know of any good studies conducted on people’s trust in new media? Or how best to measure the media’s reliability?

Journalism industry reaction to ‘churnalism’ claims

The publication of journalist Nick Davies’s book, Flat Earth News, in which he makes the accusation that a significant proportion of the news served by UK institutions is simply regurgitated PR or wire copy by time pressured hacks with too much work on their plates, has caused a wave of strong reaction through press watching circles.

Davies claims that journalists are failing at the essential job of telling the truth by ever greater commercial drives in the industry:

“Where once we were active gatherers of news, we have become passive processors of second-hand material generated by the booming PR industry and a handful of wire agencies, most of which flows into our stories without being properly checked. The relentless impact of commercialisation has seen our journalism reduced to mere churnalism,” he wrote in the Press Gazette.

Taking a donation from the Rowntree Foundation, Davies asked the journalism department at Cardiff University to research home news coverage (download report here: quality_independence_british_journalism.pdf ) in the UK’s leading national newspapers over a two week period, he claims that the research found that only 12 per cent of the stories were wholly composed of material researched by reporters. For eight per cent of the stories, researchers couldn’t be sure. Yet for the remaining 80 per cent they found were wholly, mainly or partially constructed from second-hand material, provided by news agencies and by the public relations industry.

Media commentator for The Independent, Stephen Glover, claimed the book presents ‘a damning picture of a dysfunctional national press which is spoon fed by government and PR agencies’. Glover added ‘Many journalists will recognise his portrait of editorial resources being stretched ever thinner’.

But he sees the more damning element of the book to be its attack on the relationship between the Observer newspaper and the Blair Government:

“It is amazing stuff. Mr Davies suggests the editor and the political editor of a great liberal newspaper were suborned by Number 10, and so manipulated that The Observer became a government mouthpiece. Not even The Times’s endorsement of Chamberlain’s appeasement policy in the 1930s involved the degree of editorial submission to governmental power that Mr Davies alleges in Flat Earth News.”

Although broadly in agreement with Davies, Peter Wilby wrote in the Guardian that his methodology and conclusions of increased workloads hadn’t quite made allowances for some of the positives changes in the newsroom:

“Davies overstates his case. For example, the internet, email and mobile phones have all made information and contacts more easily accessible. It isn’t, therefore, unreasonable to expect journalists to fill more space. Time spent “cultivating contacts” was, in any case, often time spent on overlong, overliquid lunches. But experience also tells me his argument is fundamentally sound”

There was a little more scepticism about the research from Adrian Monck, he wrote that study ‘links full-time employees to pagination’:

“But what about: freelance employees? Bought-in copy? The amount of agency material used? Changes in technology? The reduction in the number of editions?

“Could any of these things have a bearing on the analysis? And shouldn’t journalists be more productive? What about these innovations: Electronic databases, computers, mobile telephones, the Internet?”

He also takes issue with Davies line about PR being used to fill news pages, suggesting that it’s not a new argument.

Simon Bucks, Sky News associate editor, also draws out the point that new technology can negate some of the issues brought up.

“There’s a wider point in this debate. Web 2.0 allows the public to play a much bigger role in journalism. If we get a fact wrong or miss out something important, it won’t take long before someone lets us know. Big mistakes generate an avalanche of comment.

“So there’s no reason for any news organisation to keep reporting a flat earth story, if it isn’t accurate.”

More predictably, the editor of the Independent on Sunday, John Mullin, and the managing editor of the News of the World, Stuart Kuttner, argued the defence against Davies on Radio 4’s Today programme, choosing the more well-worn line of British journalism being the best in the world.

Roy Greenslade wrote that it was ‘heartening’ that Davies work was being taken seriously. Dismissing the Mullin/Kuttner rejection line as ‘not being good enough’, he added that the Davies work was ‘an indictment of journalistic practices that deserves wider debate’.

Kevin Marsh, editor of the BBC College of Journalism, sounds a warning on this last point:

“The trouble is, though, the British newspaper journalist has no history of taking criticism well… or working out what it is that needs to be done to turn a dysfunctional, distrusted press into something that performs a useful public purpose.”