How Michigan Dailies Use Computers to Gather News

By Davenport, Lucinda; Fico, Fred et al. | Newspaper Research Journal, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

How Michigan Dailies Use Computers to Gather News


Davenport, Lucinda, Fico, Fred, Detwiler, Mary, Newspaper Research Journal


The computer-assisted reporting revolution may now be more of an evolution as computers are more routinely used for gathering and processing information. Indeed, the term, "computer-assisted reporting," may no longer be relevant as reporters use computers for gathering information on a regular basis as part of their writing and reporting process.

Computers are now used in every phase of the information production process--gathering, organizing, writing, presenting, producing and disseminating information to consumers. "Computer-assisted reporting" in the first phase, gathering information, is the focus of this study on rate of adoption.

This research builds on two Michigan daily newspaper studies. Initial research by Soffin et al. in 1986, tracked commercial online database and in-house electronic morgue use. (1) A second study by Davenport et al. in 1996 noted seven specific means by which computers were used for gathering and organizing information: 1) commercial online databases, 2) electronic bulletin board services (BBSs), 3) the Internet, 4) compact disks-read only memory (CD-ROMs), 5) electronic morgues of that newspaper's past issues, 6) in-house topical databases that journalists develop and 7) the analyses of electronic public records. (2)

This study tracks when newspapers of different circulation size adopted each of these computerized sources and tracks the organizational benefits they obtained. Furthermore, the study explores how frequently different journalistic personnel use the various computerized sources and for what newsgathering purpose.

Thus, the overall objective of the present study is three-fold. First, it is a longitudinal study that follows up on previous research to track newspapers' adoption of computerized information sources. Second, it updates the computer-assisted reporting methods journalists use as they gather information. Third, this study seeks current reasons why journalists use these different electronic sources.

This present study is unique because it replicates and updates the only other study that has traced the adoption of computerized information sources over time by a census of newspapers in a single state. In addition, this study follows the method of the previous research, breaking apart the term "computer-assisted reporting" into seven areas, making it a more exacting and comprehensive study. Other studies, national in scope, have not surveyed smaller--more typical--daily newspapers to find out the degree to which they have kept up or been left behind in computerized reporting. And, finally, a review of the literature shows no recent computer-assisted reporting research, even as widespread commentary suggests that newsrooms are being transformed by the "electronic revolution."

This recent neglect in the field is disconcerting when the types and combinations of computer-assisted reporting skills and their rates of adoption are issues for news professionals who are trying to balance economics and competition. These points are also important to journalism educators who are trying to keep abreast of the industry while balancing new technology budgets, finding computer-assisted reporting instructors and squeezing more information into already content-jammed disciplines.

Background

The first adoption study on computerized information sources in Michigan was presented in 1987. (3) The second study was published in 1996. (4) No new adoption studies on computer-assisted reporting published since 1996 could be found.

The 1996 study reviewed the history of computer-assisted reporting and research initiatives. Generally, newspapers began implementing computers into their newsrooms in the 1980s. Commercial online databases such as VU/TEXT, CompuServe and The Source were used sporadically, depending on the newspaper's resources. (5) Furthermore, because of cost, many newspaper librarians, not journalists, were doing the online searching. …

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