Study Shows the Rise in Use of Online Forums

[October 6, 2011]

While the use of anonymous online forums is growing among newspapers, a majority of reporters say the online comments do not promote civil thoughtful discussion, according to a recent study published in Newspaper Research Journal. Researcher Arthur Santana concluded that many reporters are troubled by the anonymous content and express dismay over their newspaper’s “providing a forum for anonymous discussion, where emotions run high and mudslinging is the norm.”

According to Santana, although most newspapers have online forums, almost half of reporters “never” respond to readers’ comments on their own stories. Some 41.7 percent of reporters in Santana’s research said that they have not changed their approach to reporting based on reader comments.

In fact, 23.1 percent of reporters adapted their reporting practices to include more sources, and 22.9 percent of reporters changed their practices to include more facts. Hence, the online forum has become a medium for feedback to journalists.

Citizen comments also “have spurred reporters to re-examine the newsworthiness of a topic and have also helped them think of new and different stories to tell while nudging them toward new and different ways to tell them,” according to Santana, a doctoral student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oregon.

The study was published in the summer 2011 issue of Newspaper Research Journal.

Contacts: Sandra H. Utt Cell: (901) 628-2553 e-mail: nrj@newspaperresearchjournal.org or Elinor Kelley Grusin e-mail: egrusin@memphis.edu

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