One of the issues I’ve been writing about in my papers is the role of non-professional media contributors to, well, the media system – hence the focus on the analysis of sources to social news sites as well (about which you can read in my papers).
I have argued that non-professional journalists – independent bloggers, political activists etc. – might play an important role in the secondary dissemination and treatment of news, but they will always rely on professional media organs as the producers of news items, simply because professional – and for-profit – media organizations have at their disposal those human, financial and other resources that are needed for the continuous, high quality and up-to-date reporting about events.
I don’t see a reason why this configuration would substantially change as a consequence of the troubles that presently mar the print media industry. Print dailies might go out of business, and even venerable online news services might become bankrupt; but that does not mean that independent, community media will take over their place. Maybe there will be fewer professional media organizations, maybe some of the formerly independent blogs will turn into full-blown professional media organs (cf. The Huffington Post) – maybe both.
In this context, it is interesting to take a look at the source analysis recently carried out by The Daily Kos. Sampling all the news content published on its sites during a one-week period (6-12 April 2009), the site reported the following distribution of sources:
- Newspapers: 102 primary, 21 secondary
- Blogs: 83 primary, 19 secondary
- Advocacy organizations: 77 primary, 9 secondary
- Television network[s]: 69 primary, 14 secondary
- Online news organizations: 54 primary, 5 secondary
- Magazines and journals: 36 primary
- Political trade press: 28 primary
- Research/polling: 20 primary
- Wikipedia: 21 primary, 8 secondary
- Educational (.edu): 15 primary
- Government: 14 primary, 5 secondary
- Campaigns: 13 primary
- Books: 6 primary
- AP and other Wire: 5 secondary
- Radio: 4 primary
Contrary to how I understand the term “secondary source,” the DK conceptualized these as the “original” source of a given news item – as far as it can be traced back. So this is exactly what I refer to as “primary” source in my papers.
“While newspapers were the most common source of information, they accounted for just 123 out of 628 total original information sources, or just shy of 20 percent. […] In the unlikely and tragic event that every single newspaper went out of business today, we’d have little problem replacing them as a source of information. […] We live in a rich media environment, easily the richest in world history, and the demise of the newspaper industry will simply shift much of the journalistic work they did to other media.”
Fair enough, says I, but I wonder what the real meaning of these figures are. If we accept that the meaningful difference is not between particular arms of the professional media system (newspapers vs TV networks, for example), but between professional and amateur journalism, the above numbers suggest that the overwhelming majority (around 76%, if we allow everything shoved under the “Blogs” category to have been produced by amateur journalists) of news material came to DK from professional media organs. Which falls in line with the point I started this post with.
But on the other hand I’d be wary of drawing far-reaching conclusions from a one-week sample of a particular blog – itself full of particularities, such as its ideological standing and openly advertised political mission.