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The respondents’ ties to traditional reporting were also apparent when they were asked about the content itself, what they produce, and what they see as most important to their brand.

First and foremost is a clear value placed on original reporting. Six in 10 (63%) respondents ranked original reporting as the most important type of information they produce. This was more than four times that of any other type of information listed.

“Most Important” Information Types on One’s Site
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Source: PEJ/ONA 2008 Survey of ONA Members
Note: Data represent the percent of respondents who ranked each item first in importance among the six information types.

User-generated content, on the other hand, came in at the bottom, with nearly half of the respondents (43%) giving it one of the last two rankings. That was followed by aggregated material from non-legacy outlets, which got one of the lowest two rankings from 32% of those surveyed. Conversely, 32% placed aggregated material from legacy outlets in one of the top two rankings.

“Least Important” Information Types on One’s Site
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Source: PEJ/ONA 2008 Survey of ONA Members
Note: Data represent the percent of respondents who ranked each item first in importance among the six information types.

These journalists were more mixed about the value of commentary from staff. Just 4% ranked commentary by staff as the most important content, but one in five (20%) ranked it second. Another 20% ranked it last, with the rest falling somewhere in between.

Whether as commentary or original reporting, most new content is staff-produced. A majority of the new content on the site comes from their own organization. Four in 10 (41%) reported that more than 75% of the content is their own original work. Another three in 10 said this is true of more than half of their content.

Respondents did express value in newer types of communication, even if not as evident in their practice. A majority, 54%, see community-produced content on the website as “an essential ingredient for the website of the future.”

“The aggregation of many voices can statistically provide a truer picture of our world than we may have been able to know otherwise,” wrote an ONA member responsible for digital editorial content and product development for their newsroom and interactive department. Others are not so sure. One respondent bluntly stated, “So-called citizen journalism is a failure.”

When it comes to practice, the forms of citizen content appear quite limited. The most popular type cited was comments and discussion groups (56%), but these are hardly seen as the newest or most engaging ways to draw in citizens. Just 31% said community-posted pictures are a regular part of their website. Only 18%, on the other hand, use either community reporting, videos, or blogs, and a mere 3% employ community-based wikis.

Regular Community Content
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Source: PEJ/ONA 2008 Survey of ONA Members

And finally, these journalists expressed a solid commitment to editing. Three-quarters of these online journalists said they edit content (other than blog posts) for accuracy as well as typos. Within this statement, though, there is much room for varying standards and practices. Definitions of accuracy may vary, and many respondents expressed specific concerns about the deterioration of strong editing.