Would you like source with your news sir?

So I was reading through an study called “The Passive Journalist” by Deirdre O’Neill and Catherine O’Connor (which can be found here), and it got me thinking about things. Don’t worry, it was reading material for university, I don’t just randomly pick up studies for a bit of bedtime reading (or do I?). Basically to cut a long story short the study looks at how newspapers are becoming increasingly reliant on the use of sources, and that on top of this the use of just ONE source rather than a wide variety for a single story.

The research looked at four different local newspapers – the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, the Bradford Telegraph & Argus, the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Halifax Courier. These newspapers are owned by three major newsgroups – Trinity Mirror, Newsquest Media Group and Johnston Press (the latter owning the last two of the listed papers). Using these they identified and recorded whenever primary news or secondary news sources were sourced in a story. This was restricted to only editorial content. They say “the aim was to establish whether readers were receiving alternative, contrasting or validating perspectives from relevant multiple sources within a single report or whether relevant voices or views were, as a matter of routine, not being consulted or recorded.” They found that all four news papers were making use of just a single source around 70% of the time. As they correctly state, “there is little evidence of “original journalism”.” However I should note that they do take an objective stance during throughout their findings, noting how they may suggest how they may reflect a lack of time and resources on the journalist’s part.

My thoughts? Well putting aside the notion that this could all just be down to lack of time and resources for a moment, in reality there’s a lot of ways for journalists to find news (I should know, in our “Writing for Newspapers” lecture this week we had to come up with 50 different sources of news in about 15 minutes, which is a lot harder than it sounds believe me). With journalists all over the country becoming reliant on the same old sources it’s no wonder we have terms like “churnalism” and “mcdonalization” being thrown around. Like a giant Ikea of world affairs, news is far too pre-packaged these days. Whatever happened to the thrill of the chase? Did Clark Kent sit as his desk all day waiting to hear from a reliable source about a Superman related story for the Daily Planet? Did Peter Parker wait for someone else to find him pictures of Spider-Man? Wait…no, those are pretty bad examples. My point remains the same though, surely there’s more satisfaction to be got out of going and looking for and finding your own unique story rather than using the same sources as everyone else. These results certainly show that there is an issue of journalists just passively passing on the information they’ve been given to readers, with little or no thought put into how they could expand upon this information by following other leads or injecting a little bit of life into it.

To quote the poster for the film Anchorman – “They bring you the news, so you don’t have to get it yourself.” While I suppose this is still true in a sense, a little bit of effort goes a long long way folks.

Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 2:09 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. After reading the study this makes me quite certain that I don’t want to enter newspaper journalism!

    I think it would also be interesting to read a study of ‘local’ US newspapers and see where their news sources come from. One imagines there wouldn’t be much difference from their UK counterparts…

    • I agree, that would be quite interesting to see since we don’t look at the readership of American newspapers alot. I can understand why but it would definitely give a broader sense of the issue at hand.

  2. I like ur reference to an ‘Ikea world of affairs’. That makes a lot of sense, because when u go to ikea all you have to do is find the piece of furniture or whatever u are looking for, and it is there packaged for u already, all you have to do is construct it. Like newspaper journalists, all they have to do is maybe make some amends to the press release they have been given and voila, we have news!

    I completely agree with you that journalists should be out there themselves finding their own stories, but with the amount of staff that has been laid off, maybe it is due to lack of time that the industry is like this.

    By the way, like the comic references!!!

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