Journalists’ Use of Net Increases; Training Still Lacking

Journalists’ use of the Internet has grown dramatically in the last seven years, and they now use the Net as easily as the phone, according to the Seventh Annual Middleberg/Ross Survey of Media in the Wired World.

Reporters and editors use of the Net for email, article research, and finding story ideas, new sources and press releases is at an all-time high, the survey found. The study was conducted by Don Middleberg, chairman and CEO of Middleberg Euro RSCG, a communications firm, and Steve Ross, associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Nearly all of respondents (more than 98 percent) go online at least daily to check email, and spend 15 hours a week reading and sending email. Seventy percent of the journalists say they or their colleagues engage in dialogues with readers via email and discussion groups. In 1995, 59 percent of respondents reported using email. When it comes to article research, 92 percent of the respondents say they went online for this purpose in 2000, compared with 66 percent of respondents in 1995.

Overall, journalists believe the Internet has made their jobs easier and improved the quality of their work. But 71 percent of respondents say they lack training in computer-assisted reporting, and of those who have received it, almost half got it on their own initiative.

Of the print media respondents, 81 percent are searching online daily, yet they rarely use topic-specific search engines and lack knowledge about specialized Web sites, which are proliferating and necessary. When it comes to using Web chat or newsgroup postings as primary or secondary sources, only 44 percent say they would not consider doing so, and 47 percent say they would consider reporting or spreading a story that started on the Net if confirmed by an independent source.

“Journalists who use the Internet have not kept up with its myriad offerings because of an embarrassingly small amount of resources devoted to training,” Ross said. “Due to this lack of training and to an abundance of competitive pressures, journalists seem blind to many of the ethical issues and dangers professional use of the Internet presents. They repeat rumors that originate online, are increasingly willing to use email for interviewing, and are unwilling to expand their readers’ understanding by linking to other sites, even when the sites are not competitors.”

Not surprisingly, email and article research are the most popular uses of the Internet, but going online for new sources, story pitches and press releases are all popular uses and all are increasing in prevalence. Corporate Web sites are a key source of information when reporting breaking news when no other primary source is available.

When asked about how their organizations are preparing for the future, only 32 percent said their organizations are preparing for higher Web bandwidth (68 percent said no), and while many believe consumers will want content via wireless, few say their organizations are actively planning to provide it.

The study is based on the responses of more than 500 journalists working at newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets nationwide.

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