How Online Citizen Journalism Publications and Online Newspapers Utilize the Objectivity Standard and Rely on External Sources

By Carpenter, Serena | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

How Online Citizen Journalism Publications and Online Newspapers Utilize the Objectivity Standard and Rely on External Sources


Carpenter, Serena, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


This research utilizes Shoemaker and Reese's Hierarchy of Influences to understand how routines influence online citizen journalism and online newspaper content. Reliance on routines affects the diversity of content publicly available. Overall, online daily newspaper journalists were more likely to rely on routines than online citizen journalists. Newspaper journalists relied more heavily on external sources, while citizen journalists used more unofficial sources and opinion. Thus, publication type is related to the presence of content that reflects media routines.

Journalists should strive to unite their communities by representing all groups, according to the Hutchins Commission. However, concern exists whether traditional news media are fulfilling this role.1 Constraints affect the diversity of viewpoints present within articles. In principle, public access to diverse views should increase in content produced by online citizen journalists because they are unlikely to face the same constraints as traditional journalists. However, controversy exists regarding the informational value of online citizen journalism content because many citizen journalists have little to no professional training.

To begin understanding online citizen journalists, this research focused on the extent to which online citizen journalism and online content from daily newspapers reflects routines. Sourcing decisions by journalists demonstrate dependency on routines. Traditional journalists have been known to rely heavily on routine sources to cope with time constraints and the ambiguous definition of news. Some researchers argue that traditional journalists' reliance on routines and traditional standards has affected the diversity of available viewpoints.2 The present study utilized Shoemaker and Reese's Hierarchy of Influences on media content to understand the relationship between publication types and their reliance on media routines.3 Traditional journalists more likely conform to routines and thus behave in a more predictable manner because traditional journalists create content to meet the goals and values of an organization, which in turn affects the newspaper journalist's ability to influence content. On the other hand, citizen journalists may experience a greater degree of independence from routines because they are not as likely subject to the same constraints.4

To accomplish this task, the present examination looked at articles from daily newspapers that are online (e.g., http://www.startribune. com) and from online citizen journalism (e.g., Westport Now; Metroblogging Portland) publications. The articles selected for this study derive only from citizen journalism sites that focus their coverage on a geographic area (e.g., Hamtramck, Mich., Chicago, 111.), rather than on an issue (e.g., politics, education). This research defined an online citizen journalist as an individual who intends to publish information online that is meant to benefit a community. Traditional news media organizations were defined as commercial news organizations that have historically focused on the daily delivery of information concerning a geographic (e.g., local, state, national, international) area in either a textual, audio, or visual offline format. In the online realm, audio, video, and text can be more efficiently intertwined to create layers that sometimes promote a deeper level of understanding.

Theoretical Framework

Online Citizen and Newspaper Journalists. There is tension between those who consider themselves online citizen journalists and those who work as journalists for traditional news organizations. Citizen journalists are criticized for their propensity to feature entertainment articles with little background research, rather than informing the public on matters that benefit them as citizens.5 Many citizen journalists have not been trained to subscribe to the same standards (e.g., objectivity, thoroughness, fairness, accuracy) as journalists working for news organizations.

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How Online Citizen Journalism Publications and Online Newspapers Utilize the Objectivity Standard and Rely on External Sources
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