Monday, March 30, 2009

Online journalists optimistic about future

These report findings add to our class discussion today:

Journalists working online have an uneasy optimism about the future of their industry—but they are more hopeful than news people from more traditional media outlets, according a new survey of select members of the Online News Association (ONA) produced by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the ONA.

“I think there’s a huge potential in online journalism, but there’s also a lot of scary stuff out there … We have to try to not lose our way,” said one respondent.

The respondents were less likely to think journalism is headed in the “wrong direction” than are journalists from legacy media, but more than half believe the internet is changing the fundamental values of journalism—more often than not for the worse. Among the biggest changes cited are a loosening of standards (45%), more voices from outside the institution (31%) and an increased emphasis on speed (25%).

Fully 91% praised some aspect of available technology, 30% saw value in the diversity of voices and half believe the move toward more overtly ideological points of view at news sites “is a good thing.”

This optimism also applies to the economics of the online news business. More than 60% say their online unit currently is making a profit, and four in ten respondents are “very confident” that online news can find a profitable model for online journalism.

Still, these economic hopes are largely pinned on Internet advertising, which began flattening out in 2008 with signs of further decline. Roughly two-thirds of journalists surveyed predicted advertising would be the most important form of revenue at websites in three years. Only a quarter of respondents named an alternative model.

These are some of the findings of a survey of nearly 300 of ONA’s 1,800 members, produced jointly with the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which drafted the questionnaire. The survey was administered by Princeton Survey Research Associates. The survey is a special report included in the Project’s annual report on the health and status of the news industry, the State of the News Media 2009.

The Online News Association is the world’s largest association of online journalists. ONA’s mission is to inspire innovation and excellence among journalists to better serve the public. The membership includes news writers, producers, designers, editors, bloggers, technologists, photographers and others who produce news for the Internet or other digital delivery systems, as well as academic members and others interested in the development of online journalism.

Read the complete survey.

Among the findings:

* When asked what online journalism is “doing especially well these days,” more named aspects of technology like creating rich, engaging media (31%) speeding up the delivery of information (30%), and reaching out to new audiences (30%) than named new forms of storytelling (16%) or exploiting the potential for greater depth or analysis (12%).
* Six in 10 (63%) of respondents ranked original reporting as the most important type of information they produce. This was more than four times as much as the second-most important information type: aggregated material from wires and other legacy outlets (13%).
* Three-quarters of ONA members surveyed said their sites’ home page is “essential to getting their content to users.” This is nearly three times the number that named e-mail alerts (26%) and RSS (26%). Just 9% considered posting to social media sites essential. Postings on the increasingly popular YouTube were named essential by a mere 4%. And four times as many (18%) said YouTube postings were not at all important.
* The vast majority of these respondents (77%) work in for-profit models. And, a majority, 61%, says their sites are currently turning a profit—but “making a profit” may not be as clear-cut here as in other genres. First, few of these sites are being forced to carry the full weight of those profits. Two-thirds of those in for-profit models (67%) say their sites are subsidized by their legacy media outlet. Less than a third (29%) are either an online-only entity or fully separate from the legacy outlet.

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