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Traditional and Nontraditional News Sources: The Impact of the Internet

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The rapid development and increased use of the Internet has many concerned about the impact this is having on both the news industry and society as a whole. As a result, a number of studies have been conducted concerning this topic. This essay will explore three specific areas of this research and in doing so, attempt to answer the following questions: (1) Does the establishment of an e-channel for reporting news mark the beginning of the end for traditional news outlets? (2) What role does credibility play in consumers’ choice to read either traditional or nontraditional news? (3) What changes have there been in terms of the way news is disseminated and what effect is this having on consumer issue agendas?

For the purpose of this essay, traditional and nontraditional news sources are those described by Jonathan Dube in a 2002 LexisNexis Survey. Dube describes traditional news sources as “professional journalists at well-established, popular and mainstream newspapers, magazines, television, radio, etc (and their Internet sites).” This is in contrast to emerging or nontraditional news sources, which Dube describes as “citizen journalists, pundits and organizations who create alternative or Internet-only publications, blogs and podcasts, often with a personal or particular point of view.”

Peter Johnson states in his 2005 USA Today report “Non-traditional Media Gain Ground, Consumers,” that in a typical week, most individuals get their news from four different media outlets: television, radio, newspapers, and now the Internet. Currently, the Internet attracts fifty million Americans everyday. The growing popularity of the Internet is fueled by the ever-expanding growth of broadband connections, which makes downloading stories and pictures quicker and easier than ever. Individuals who access news via the Internet do so to gain specific information and up to the minute breaking news. This is consistent with individuals’ busy schedules and increased pace of life. Overall, online consumers tend to read a fewer number of stories often with a narrower range of topics than those who consume news via traditional media outlets, specifically newspapers. Newspaper readers represent the group of individuals who do have the time to sit and relax. Having the luxury of time, they tend to read a greater number and wider variety of stories, often gaining knowledge and reading stories they never set out to read. However, this is becoming more and more scarce witnessed by the increase in individuals who are accessing news online.

Before one can conclude that the increase in online news consumptions is causing traditional news to be replaced by nontraditional news, it is important to assess what type of news is being accessed online. As previously stated, Internet sites that correspond to well-established newspapers and network and cable news channels represent traditional news. Nontraditional news is that found in Internet-only publications such as blogs, podcasts, and chat rooms, often created by citizen journalists. Taking this into consideration, even with the introduction of the Internet, the consumption of traditional news is still superior to that of nontraditional news. In general, most consumers, regardless of age, are interested in the news and tend to trust traditional news sources more so than emerging news sources created by citizen journalists, according to Dube.

However, it is important to note the emerging differences in consumption between younger and older consumers of online news. For older consumers, or those over the age of thirty-six, the Internet has merely become a more convenient channel for delivering traditional news. However, younger consumers use the Internet not only for the convenient access to traditional news, but also to access nontraditional news sites such as Yahoo! and Google News, as mentioned by Leslie Brooks in his 2006 article, “Online News Challenges Older Media.” As such, the development of the Internet as a news outlet is great for the news industry as a whole in that the Internet is supplying an additional channel to satisfy consumers’ desire for news, but it can also be a dangerous development for society and the potential impact it may have on the formation of individuals’ issue agendas.

With nontraditional news, citizen journalists not required to work within the strict policies and guidelines that mainstream media reporters are required to abide by. Johnson points out that with more and more individuals turning to these emerging news sources, a new form of journalism is replacing traditional journalism. Traditionally, all the facts must be confirmed for a story to run but with this new form of journalism, information is presented as fact without any attempt at verification. As a result, many nontraditional outlets are misrepresenting news so much so that it is becoming increasingly harder for individuals to distinguish between legitimate news and other unsubstantiated information.

The combination of a more opinionated approach to journalism and the availability of a vast array of media outlets bears important implications as to the way news is disseminated and the development of individuals’ issue agendas. Scott Althaus and David Tewksbury state in their 2002 article, “Agenda Setting and the ‘New’ News: Patterns of Issue Importance Among Readers of the Paper and Online Versions of the New York Times,” that more so than ever, individuals have the ability to choose exactly what they expose themselves to, creating personalized information environments and shutting themselves off from more mainstream stories. Individuals are now accessing specific sites for specific information.

Furthermore, Tewskbury’s 2005 article “The Seeds of Audience Fragmentation: Specialization in the Use of Online News Sites,” emphasizes that online sites are segmenting audiences and adjusting the content of their sites based on the demographics of those who are accessing the site. With news fragmentation, individuals are increasingly unable to agree to the most basic facts “because everyone is consuming their own kind of personal mix of media. The chances that we know the same thing, even if we’re sitting in an office in a cubicle next to each other, is less than it used to be,” says Johnson. Althaus and Tewksbury further point out that this leads consumers to develop different perceptions of the most important problems facing the country and different issue agendas.

Although the consumption of nontraditional news has been gaining ground on traditional news over the past few years, the lack of credibility of nontraditional news will hinder it from ever eliminating traditional news as the most trusted and turned to news. For the purpose of this essay, Erik Bucy defines media credibility in his 2003 article, “Media Credibility Reconsidered: Synergy Effects Between On-Air and Online News,” as “perceptions of news channel’s believability, as distinct from individual sources, media organizations, or the content of the news itself.”

Consistent with the different types of news accessed online by younger and older individuals, younger news consumers rate television news to be more credible than Internet news and older consumers rate Internet news to be more credible than television news. Interestingly, but not surprising, is the effect that “telewebbing”, as Bucy calls it, or simultaneously surfing the Internet and watching television, has on perceived credibility. For all individuals, regardless of age, the credibility of both television and Internet news is greatly enhanced with telewebbing. When individuals are able to validate the news they either hear or see with another source, the credibility increases for both news sources.

Standing behind its credibility, traditional news is still the first choice for many individuals. The majority of Americans still rely on traditional news sources including news shows on public television and National Public Radio (NPR), national newspapers such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and commercial broadcast news including network television, cable, and commercial radio networks for their news and information. Only minorities rely on emerging news sources including Internet chat rooms, blogs, and other alternative media to get news and information. In fact, according to Dube, individuals are four to six more times likely to trust traditional media than nontraditional news sources for news they find the most interesting. However, nontraditional news is lurking in the shadows attracting more and more readers and ready to capitalize on the declining credibility of traditional news.

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