Reported by Dan Neuharth, Ph.D.
Local citizen journalism news and blog websites fall short of matching online news sites run by legacy journalism organizations and the disparity is evident across numerous measures, according to a comprehensive content analysis of 363 sites in 46 U.S. cities. “Most cities and towns are not served by citizen sites that would be adequate substitutes for online commercial news” said the report, No Replacement for Legacy Media: A Comparison of Citizen Journalism, Blogs, and Legacy Media Web Sites.
Many commentators have expressed hopes that citizen journalism might provide an alternative to the economically struggling legacy news media, democratizing media by fostering increased interaction, greater sense of community and participation from non-professional journalists. But the study found that while citizen journalism news sites and blogs do provide a service, they have yet to offer robust alternatives to local news websites run by legacy media.
More polls and surveys
Commercial news sites offer more interactive polls and surveys, more display and classified ads, and more transparency in their operations than citizen-run sites, the study found. A significantly higher percentage of commercial sites display privacy policies, outline guidelines and restrictions for contributors’ behavior, list legal and copyright information, and provide ways for users to contact them than do the citizen journalism sites studied. “Given the presumed participatory nature of citizen sites, the lower level of contact information on those sites, whether by email, telephone, or U.S. Postal Service, is somewhat striking,” according to the report.
Citizen journalism sites did exceed commercial news sites on two measures: offering public comment forums and displaying links to external sites. Seventy percent of citizen journalism sites had more than 10 external links while only 38 percent of the sites run by legacy media had more than 10 external links. Notably, nearly a quarter of commercial sites had not a single link outside their site though this may be a strategy to keep viewers on the site for longer periods of time.
Room for improvement
In terms of fostering two-way communication with consumers, the study found that both legacy and citizen sites have opportunities for considerable improvement. “Both citizen and legacy sites are more focused on sending than receiving information to citizens,” the authors observed. On virtually every measure of citizen upload capability (information about community activities, news and feature stories, audio, photos, and video), both legacy and citizen journalism sites were limited. Only one-third of legacy sites permitted photo uploading, and slightly less than one-third of both legacy and citizen sites offered upload capability for news and features. Only one measure was offered by a majority of sites: 57 percent of legacy sites permitted uploading of community activity news, compared to 34 percent of citizen journalism sites.
When it came to letters to the editor, 41 percent of legacy sites and 23 percent of citizen sites uploaded letters. “Legacy sites were significantly more welcoming to citizen participation with more opportunities for uploading community news and letters to the editor. Blogs, surprisingly, were the least welcoming to citizen participation and commentary,” the study found.
The authors drew a distinction between citizen-journalism news sites that primarily provide news and information and citizen-journalism blog sites that provide opinion but little news. The content analysis found that citizen journalism news sites were more likely than blog sites to offer mission statements, reader forums, letters to the editor, and uploading of photos, videos, audio, community information, news, and features. Citizen news sites were also significantly more likely to offer contact information than blog sites. In fact a quarter of the blog sites did not even display an email contact. In addition, citizen news sites were more likely to have more advertising than blog sites, as two thirds of blog sites studied had no ads at all.
No replacement for legacy news media
“Citizen journalism today is far from fulfilling the early promise that many early proponents envisioned. It is clear that such enterprises are not replacements for legacy news media and the newsgathering capabilities of professional newsrooms, even those newsrooms that have been decimated by downsizing,” said the report.
“Citizen blogs have an even murkier future in that their primary role is producing opinion regarding news reported by other sources, usually mainstream media. Without the enterprise reporting and beat coverage of legacy news, it is unclear on what basis bloggers will form and report opinions,” the authors added.
The study was conducted by Esther Thorson, Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, School of Journalism, University of Missouri; Margaret Duffy, Associate Professor, School of Journalism, University of Missouri; Stephen R. Lacy, Professor, Department of Communication and School of Journalism, Michigan State University; Daniel Riffe, Richard Cole Eminent Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, UNC-Chapel Hill.