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Online Journalist Survey – Intro

Introduction

Online Journalists Optimistic About Revenue and Technology, Concerned About Changing Values

Journalists who work online are more optimistic about the future of their profession than are news people tied to more traditional media platforms, but at best their optimism is an uneasy one, according a new survey of members of the Online News Association produced by the Association and the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

These online news people also believe that the Internet is changing the fundamental values of journalism—and more often than not for the worse.

Uneasy Optimism
2009 Survey of ONA Members
Where is journalism headed?
Right Track
45%
Wrong Track
54
Is the Internet changing journalism values?
Changing
57%
Not Changing
42
Can we find a profitable business model online?
Very Confident
39%
Somewhat Confident
43
Not Too Confident
11
Not Confident
1

Overall, the online journalists surveyed are less likely to think journalism is headed in the “wrong direction” than are journalists from legacy media. They are also more confident than they are pessimistic that online news will find a self-sustaining revenue model.

Contrary to current economic trends in the news industry, most report staff increases and are seeing their sites turn a profit—though this is still heavily influenced by how costs are accounted for.

But these economic hopes, while encouraging, are still largely pinned on Web advertising, whose revenues in news began flattening out in 2008.

When it came to the impact of the Internet on values, the most cited change was a loosening of standards and more carelessness in online news gathering.

Those journalists surveyed, who come largely from websites linked to legacy media, also believe the Web is changing the fundamental values of the journalism—mostly for the worse. In particular, they are worried about declining accuracy, in part due to the emphasis online that news organizations are putting on speed and breaking news.

But not all of the changes were considered worrisome. Some journalists praised the growing diversity of voices, the potential of technology, and in some cases, even the move toward more overtly ideological points of view at news sites.

“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 member who, as a part of a three-person operation, does everything from handling tech problems to social media posts to original reporting.

“It’s a good feeling to work in a part of the industry that has hope for the future,” offered another.

These are some of the findings of a survey of nearly 300 members of the Online News Association (ONA), produced jointly with the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), which drafted the questionnaire. Princeton Survey Research Associates administered the survey.

The findings represent the first-ever survey of journalist members of ONA, the largest organized association of digital journalists.1 The majority of those surveyed work for websites tied to legacy media and most have more than 11 years experience in a newsroom setting.

We do not assume that these results represent the views of all of people in new media, but 10-year-old ONA, with nearly 1,800 members, offers useful insights into how digital journalism is being practiced.

Among the findings:

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Footnotes

1. ONA also has an academic membership segment, which was not included in this survey of online media practitioners.

2. Douglas Quenqua, “Display Ad Prices Fell 50 Percent in Q4,” ClickZ, January 15, 2006