Audience Expectations and Actual Sourcing Practices in Online Journalism

Young news consumers in Finland, at least, have high expectations for the news they read online, but they are often left wanting a study claims.

The research examines the so-called trustworthiness of news articles, based around observations of 12 journalists during a working day in three newsrooms, conducted in 2013 and 2017, that sought to examine how they worked and produced online articles.

Expectations as to the sourcing practices deployed were not met, with consumers expecting and demanding greater investigation and verification of online news stories than that provided by the journalists and their media organizations. This does not imply that the news cannot be trusted, but it does signify that consumers aged between 18 and 28 sought to hold articles to a higher standard than that the reality could deliver. This age demographic, representing the most prolific users of online news, can be significant and predict trends and views common to a broader news consumer population. Expectations included that more considerable verification of stories was undertaken and that it was sourced from a credible and trustworthy source or established media. Social media and citizen reports were ranked considerably lower down the perceived hierarchy of trustworthiness and thus marked as a less-desirable news source by respondents. Articles that cited other articles without additional verification or added-value were noted as being of particular concern.

That said, the research noted sourcing practices were quite standard over the surveyed newsrooms with credible sources being used routinely, but source diversification and verification ranked lower in ratings, although the author counsels that the small sample size may amplify these differences.

Thirty-four young consumers were surveyed for this study, whose methodology seems apposite, even with its small sample, and the article is clear, focussed and pertinent. It would be valuable if the research could be expanded, including other demographics and even a comparison between Swedish- and Finnish-language news sources in the country.

Manninen, V. J. (2019). If Only They Knew: Audience Expectations and Actual Sourcing Practices in Online Journalism. Journalism Practice. OnlineFirst. doi:10.1080/17512786.2019.1625719

A post-publication review of this article that appears on Publons