Journalists Question Credibility of Blogs, But Use Them Often
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Holmes Report

Journalists Question Credibility of Blogs, But Use Them Often

The majority of journalists are using blogs to do their work, despite the fact that only 1 percent believe blogs are credible, according to the 11th annual Euro RSCG Magnet Survey of the Media.

Paul Holmes

The majority of journalists are using blogs to do their work, despite the fact that only 1 percent believe blogs are credible, according to the 11th annual Euro RSCG Magnet Survey of the Media, conducted in partnership with Columbia University.

The report says journalists—rather than their readers—are turning to blogs in record numbers. While the Euro RSCG Magnet study shows that more than half (51 percent) of journalists use weblogs regularly—with 28 percent relying on them for day-to-day reporting, a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project Survey showed that just 11 percent of the U.S. population reads blogs.

This year’s study surveyed 1,202 journalists both in North America and around the world, and marks the first year in which international journalists were invited to participate. The study questioned respondents on a broad array of timely topics, including ethics, credibility, technology and influence, to assess how the growing number and scale of corporate and media scandals, as well as the changing face of news reporting and source disclosure in the U.S. and abroad, are affecting reporting practices.

“The findings of this year’s study simply validate what we have known for some time: that blogs are playing a more significant role in the way information is transmitted to readers and journalists alike, and may profoundly alter the media and communications landscapes,” says Aaron Kwittken, CEO of Euro RSCG Magnet. “The fact that the media are using blogs for reporting and research also demonstrates that blogs have an enormous potential to not only influence the general public, but to influence the influencers—journalists and the media—as well.”

A year of dramatic growth and extensive news coverage has pushed weblogs into the public consciousness, sparking concerns about how the media will cope with this new information medium. At the same time, the media has found itself facing mounting criticism from readers, the government and its own members. These circumstances have created a “perfect storm” of sorts for blogs, which have grown rapidly as the latest source of news and information—a trend that could have a significant impact on future reporting practices.

“As blogs continue to gain in popularity, quality and influence, it is becoming imperative that journalists and journalism students continue to integrate blogs, especially blogs that cover technology, into their reporting practices,” says Steven Ross, associate professor at Columbia University and a partner in the study. “A number of credible and influential weblogs—such as Scobleizer, Gizmodo, and Boing Boing—provide an invaluable trove of research, story ideas, and other information that current and future journalists would be remiss not to leverage in their reporting.”

The study found that blogs have become a large—and arguably, increasingly integral—part of how journalists do their jobs. Indeed, 70 percent of journalists who use blogs do so for work-related tasks. Most often, those work-related tasks involve finding story ideas, with 53 percent of journalist respondents reporting using blogs for such purposes. But respondents also turn to blogs for other uses, including researching and referencing facts (43 percent) and finding sources (36 percent).

Fully 33 percent of journalists say they use blogs as a way of uncovering breaking news or scandals. Few blog-using journalists are engaging with this new medium by posting to blogs or publishing their own; such activities might be seen as compromising objectivity and thus credibility.

Journalists are also agreed that weblogs have a healthy future in the coming year for spreading information on the corporate level and functioning as watchdogs; 68 percent of respondents agree that blogs will become a more popular tool for corporations seeking to inform consumers while 56 percent agree that blogs will remain an independent and unorthodox means of disseminating information.

Almost half (49 percent) of journalists says they  have lost trust in corporations over the last year, while 45 percent are less trusting of the professional behavior of their own colleagues—up from 34 percent in 2003. Seventy-six percent of journalists agree that corporate candor in times of crisis is quite poor, and 66 percent say the same about corporate transparency during a company crisis. Consequently, reporters are turning more and more to independent sources over corporations in order to inform their views. Indeed, industry experts, industry analysts, and academics rank as journalists’ top three influential sources, while corporate spokespeople rank tenth in terms of journalistic influence.

Journalists also agree that a company’s positive image is only as good as the happiness of its customers -- 92 percent believe high levels of consumer satisfaction are quite important to a company’s media standing, while 85 percent say the same about its status as an industry trendsetter. Interestingly, 80 percent said financial health was of utmost importance—placing a company’s financial status squarely in fifth place as the most important factor in determining media standing.

Journalists’ trust in each other has plummeted in the wake of recent scandals: 93 percent note that they are less trusting of colleagues who are paid to act as spokespeople, and 79 percent believe that recent revelations about journalists taking payment from third parties has had quite a strong effect on media credibility. Likewise, 78 percent believe that Rathergate has profoundly altered the media’s credibility.

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