Skip to Content View Previous Reports

Fundamental Values

Fundamental Values

The heavy influence of advertising reflects a tension that emerges throughout the survey. Most of these respondents either work for the website of a legacy outlet or are former legacy journalists that started independent online ventures of their own. They are grounded in the more organized, traditional news model and have carried that foundation to the Web. Thus, while embracing much about new media, these journalists also demonstrate a strong belief in traditional values and practices.

With this grounding, a solid majority (57%) say the Internet is “changing the fundamental values of journalism” rather than “transferring those values online.” And the change was deemed more negative than positive.

When asked how it was altering the values, most (45%) cited a loosening of standards and less careful reporting. “It is eliminating the gatekeeper role,” wrote an editor and content manager responsible for both online and print newsroom operations, “pressing journalists to produce without the same degree of reflection and verification.”

“The focus is more on getting the news out before checking its accuracy, and this is weakening journalism’s credibility,” wrote another. “A reversion to checking and double-checking is needed, especially since mistakes can last forever online.”

The second-biggest change in values cited by respondents was one that invited a more divided reaction. Roughly a third, 31%, named giving more voice to others and reducing the clout of journalists. “The news consumer has never had a greater role in policing the veracity of what he or she reads, sees and hears,” offered an executive in charge of editorial and sales for a top local broadcast news website. Yet some saw downsides here. One content manager wrote: “It allows all sorts of unfiltered, untrained and unethical yahoos to donate public comments.”

The third category of change, cited by 25% of respondents, was the shift in values related to the growing emphasis on speed. While some noted positive implications like getting news to people faster, most spoke of immediacy becoming more important than accuracy. As one writer and producer of stories described it, misinformation “gets spread faster than a bad sexually transmitted disease.”

In what way(s) is the Internet changing the fundamental values of Journalism?
Based on those who say the Internet is changing fundamental values of Journalism [N=165]
Loosening standards/ Less carefulness 45%
Allowing others to have a voice (good & bad) 31
Emphasis on speed (good & bad) 25
Less analysis/ More superficial 11
Advertising and business tainting journalism 8
More opinion/ Bias 7
Less original content/ More context-based 5
MORE transparency/ Openness Accountability 5
LESS transparency/ Openness Accountability 2
Misc. other 24
No answer 6

Note: Total may exceed 100% due to multiple responses

Other changes cited were mostly negative: 11% said the Internet has made journalism is more superficial. “‘Good enough’ is good enough” wrote one. Journalists, wrote another, are “more willing to shoot from the hip.” Another 8% cited an increased influence from advertisers and other business-side people; and 7% said journalism now has more opinion or bias.

Thus, fully two-thirds of the changes cited here were clearly negative, while the rest were divided.

The reaction is complex one, a mixture of optimism and fear, possibility, and some regret. Many expressed in written statements the tension of both positive and negative implications in the emerging world of online journalism. “It is making it more transparent, it is making it more open to feedback and voices, it is making it more engaging and two-way, wrote one director of digital content. “But it has also cost traditional journalists their status as expert information gatherers, and that could (and likely will) have an impact on our craft in the future as well.”

And some, despite some negative implications now, sense that in the end, a better journalism will emerge: “I think we’re now more focused on quantity and speed than we are on quality storytelling and accuracy. With that said, I believe that’s going to change as the Web gets more competitive. Then, our traditional values of journalism will find their place in online news too.”

When asked specifically about what journalism on the Web does particularly well right now, these online journalists spoke more about technology than reporting. As one programmer described it, “We’re really good at putting photos, videos, articles ‘on’ the Web but really bad at understanding the Web as a medium on its own.”

Fully 91% named some aspect of technology in their responses. “Interactivity,” “driving people to slide shows,” and “data visualization,” were among the successes named as well as “connecting viewers around the world,” and “attracting new audiences.”

Just 16%, on the other hand, cited new forms of storytelling like “really digging deep into a subject using new and creative tools at our disposal.” And even fewer (12%) named greater depth of reporting.

What Online Journalism Does Well
Design Your Own Chart

Source: PEJ/ONA 2008 Survey of ONA Members
Note: Total may exceed 100% due to multiple responses

One area where these journalists seem torn, but more in line with new media than old, was on the question of viewpoint. Half felt that it was “a good thing” for news outlets to have an ideological point of view and nearly as many, 45%, felt the same way about individual journalists. While not a clear majority, these journalists working in new media sense more deeply than those in the mainstream press that “it is becoming more acceptable to report news with an obvious voice or bias.” In the 2007 survey of the mainstream press, three-quarters of national journalists and 79% of local journalists said it is a “bad thing if some daily news organizations have a decidedly ideological point of view in their coverage of the news.”