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The Effects of Interactive Media on Civic and Traditional Journalists
Oklahoma State University
University of Oklahoma
Correspondence may be addressed to: Shelley Wigley, Oklahoma State
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Bldg., Stillwater, Okla., 74078 (405) 744-8279, [log in to unmask]
This study looked at differences between civic and traditional
journalists. Sports journalists at daily newspapers participated in a
Web-based survey. Results indicate that civic journalists do not
place more value on citizen input than traditional journalists, nor
do they pay more attention to sports talk radio and Internet message
boards as a source of information or fan opinion. The study produced
one counterintuitive finding. Traditional journalists reported
greater interaction with the public through Internet message boards,
sports talk radio and interpersonal communication than civic journalists.
Although a number of studies have looked at the impact of civic
journalism on reporters, media content and even audience members,
little research has been devoted to the non-traditional, interactive
media's impact on civic journalism. Although several newspapers
across the country have utilized the Internet to engage citizens
(Bressers, 2003; Bukota, 2001; Schaffer, 2000), research that
explores the Internet's impact on journalists, both civic and
traditional, is lacking. What influence does interactive media such
as Internet message boards and talk radio discussions have on
journalists and how they perform their jobs?
Because of the high number of interactive media opportunities for
sports fans, including more than 600 sports talk radio stations
nationwide (Eastman, 2004) and a plethora of fan-based message boards
on the Internet (Strickland, 2004), the authors chose to focus on
sports journalists for this research study. In fact, "just about
every team in every sport has (Web) sites dedicated to the opinion of
fans" (Strickland, 2004, p. 1C). There are also indications that
sports journalists pay attention to interactive forms of media. Some
sports writers document fan support by referring to callers' comments
and predictions on sports talk radio programs (Bruscas & Skolnik,
2003; Conley, 2003; Vargas, 2003; White, 2002). Others refer to
information posted on sports Internet message boards and
correspondence with readers conducted via e-mail (Hruby, 2003;
Strickland, 2004; Tramel, 2003). One sports columnist wrote, "Through
the newfound wonders of e-mail, radio shows and street corners, I
correspond with fans like never before" (Tramel, 2003, p. 1C). Some
newspapers even invite fan participation by encouraging readers to
"call the sports editor" or give reader feedback (Call the sports
editor, 2002, p. B2; Jaworski, 2003; Reader feedback, 2003).
Although civic journalism has been studied mostly through a political
lens, the authors believe that athletics also offers an opportunity
to engage community members and increase citizen participation in
public life. Peck (1999), for one, argues that civic journalism
shouldn't just be about politics, and when it is, it misses large
swaths of the public: "Sports should have a civic-journalism
component." What he calls "small 'c' civic journalism" is about
bringing "interactivity and connection with community to every
section of the paper where different readers can be found." From
professional basketball to peewee football, athletics often deals
with important societal issues, including education, drug use, and
violence. Will the revelation that major league baseball players use
steroids influence young athletes to do the same? Should college
athletes be paid to play sports? Should children under age 10 be
allowed to play peewee football? These are just a few examples of
sports-related issues that can stimulate debate and engage community
members. As Lapchick (2003) notes, "Sport, from youth sports through
the pros, has a role to play in leadership and public discourse" (p. 79).
Furthermore, sports engage community members by building civic
engagement, pride and identity within nations and communities. Boyle
and Haynes (2000) describe sports fans as carrying "a badge of
identity" (p. 13) that connects personal identity to collective
identity and to cultural markers such as religion, nationality and
politics. Long and Sanderson (2001) emphasize the benefits of
athletics to communities including increased pride, cohesion and
collective identity in the community. A study by Sorek (2003)
emphasizes how athletics can be used to encourage discourse among
various groups. In his research on Arab soccer players in Israel,
Sorek found that various groups, including fans, players, bureaucrats
and media, cooperated to construct an integrative community within
the general Israeli public sphere. Other researchers have emphasized
the opportunities sports often provide to marginalized and excluded
minorities (Hartmann, 2003; Lapchick, 2003).
The previously mentioned sampling of sports pages across the nation
indicates that non-traditional, interactive media may influence media
gatekeepers in the sports domain. In addition, because of the
proliferation of sports talk radio stations and sports Internet
message boards and the fact that athletics often overlap with
community issues and societal problems, sports journalism was
selected as the lens through which to explore the impact of
non-traditional, interactive media on both civic and traditional journalists.
The civic journalism movement began in the late 1980s and early 1990s
because of some journalists' dissatisfaction with the profession
(Charity, 1995). These journalists thought the profession "ought to
make it as easy as possible for citizens to make intelligent
decisions about public affairs, and to get them carried out" (p. 2).
There are a number of definitions of civic journalism, which is also
referred to as "public" or "citizen-based" journalism. Fouhy (1996)
describes the process as a way for members of the news media to
"reconnect to their communities so they can engage citizens in
dialogues that lead to problem solving" (as cited in Eksterowicz,
2000, p. 3). Rosen (1999) defines civic journalism as:
an approach to the daily business of the craft that calls on
journalists to (1) address people as citizens, potential participants
in public affairs, rather than victims or spectators; (2) help the
political community act upon, rather than just learn about, its
problems; (3) improve the climate of public discussion, rather than
simply watch it deteriorate; (4) help make public life go well, so
that it earns its claim on our attention (p. 22).
Everette (1995) states that civic journalism "urges local news media
to take a more active
role by encouraging greater public involvement with public problems
and setting the public agenda, as well as leading public debate" (p.
48). Still others, like Fouhy and Schaffer (1995), define civic
journalism as "initiatives which make a deliberative attempt to reach
out to citizens, to listen to them, and to have citizens listen and
talk to each other (as cited in Voakes, 1999, p. 757). Apostles of
the movement also believe that civic journalism "represents an
attempt to connect journalists with the communities in which they
operate. It places citizen input at the center of journalistic
concerns" (Eksterowicz, Roberts & Clark, 1998, p. 74).
Critics of civic journalism point to the movement's lack of a clear
definition. These "traditional" journalists, as they are often
called, also have problems with the notion that journalists should
operate more as advocates and cheerleaders and less like watchdogs.
Some believe that civic journalism also sacrifices journalists'
objectivity (Eksterowicz, 2000), and still others believe the concept
is nothing more than a marketing gimmick that focuses entirely too
much on pandering to a fickle public in order to make a buck
(Corrigan, 1999). Despite a number of critics, the Pew Center has
funded more than 400 public journalism projects across the nation
(Bloomquist & Zukin, 1997).
Since its implementation in the early 1990s, civic journalism has
been studied by a number of researchers. As stated earlier, a bulk of
the research has focused on the differences in content between civic
media and traditional media, journalists' attitudes about civic
journalism and civic journalism's effects on audiences. Voakes
(1999), in a national survey of newspaper journalists, discovered
strong support for practices associated with civic journalism. Arant
and Meyer (1998) found just the opposite in their survey of newspaper
staff members at U.S. daily newspapers. Despite the high number of
civic journalism projects that have been implemented across the
nation over the past 15 years, few journalists in the Arant and Meyer
study said they strayed from traditional journalistic practices.
McDevitt, Gassaway & Perez (2002) surveyed both college students and
professional journalists and discovered that students' commitment to
civic journalism often fades once they acquire jobs as professional
journalists. Massey and Haas (2002) evaluated 47 civic journalism
studies and determined that civic journalism practices had limited
affects on journalist attitudes and behaviors.
Researchers have also looked at media content as a dependent variable
in civic journalism projects. McGregor, Fountaine and Comrie (2000)
compared the content of both traditional and civic newspapers during
the 1993 and 1996 general election campaigns in New Zealand and found
that newspapers that had implemented civic journalism projects
covered more policy issues, focused less on personalities, were less
negative, and were less likely to cover the campaign from a
"horse-race" perspective. Maier and Potter (2001) studied television
broadcasters and how they covered the 1996 election campaigns in the
United States. The researchers discovered that those broadcasters
that claimed to practice civic journalism devoted more time to policy
issues and less to election polls; however, the differences in
coverage were small and fell short of statistical significance. Both
Kurpius (2002) and Massey (1996) looked at source diversity at
newspapers and television stations that were involved in civic
journalism projects. Both researchers found evidence of increased
source diversity. Because one of the goals of civic journalism is to
influence audience members to become engaged in society, a number of
studies have looked at audience effects, although a number have found
conflicting results (Bloomquist & Zukin, 1997; Massey & Haas, 2002;
Newby, 1997; Simmons, 1999).
Even though several civic journalism projects have utilized
technology, specifically interactive media such as e-mail and
Internet message boards, few empirical studies have looked at the use
or impact of interactive media in civic journalism. Kurpius and
Mendelson (2002) content analyzed telephone calls to C-SPAN's
"Washington Journal" program and found that 27 percent of callers
introduced new conversation topics. However, no other empirical
research was located that dealt with civic journalism and interactive
media. Anecdotal evidence does exist for interactive media's role in
the civic journalism process. The Everett Herald newspaper used the
Internet to engage citizens on a proposed waterfront plan and
reported that 1,500 of the 2,000 responses came via the Internet
(Bukota, 2001). Bukota also found that following the Sept. 11, 2001
terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, reporters at the
Spokesman-Review used reader e-mails for input into stories on the
local economy and what military action the United States should take.
Although civic journalism has its critics and may even suffer from an
identity crisis, one thing is clear. The movement can only continue
to exist by engaging the public, giving them a voice and encouraging
them to talk to the media and each other. And what better way to
facilitate this process than by utilizing non-traditional, interactive media?
Previous studies have surveyed journalists about their opinions and
practices of civic journalism and looked at differences between
content of media that emphasize civic journalism and media that do
not. However, little research has looked at how journalists operate
with regards to agenda-setting and gatekeeping, particularly when
using interactive media. What role, if any, do interactive media play
in the newsgathering process? Are there differences in the role
interactive media play in the newsgathering process in newsrooms that
emphasize civic journalism and those that do not?
The tenets of civic journalism propose that journalists pay close
attention to public opinion and engage the public in discussions on
various problems and issues. Some researchers have even extolled the
benefits of interactive media, such as the Internet, in furthering
the mission of civic journalism (Bressers, 2003; Bukota, 2001; Payne,
2003). Therefore, this study posits the following hypotheses:
H1: Journalists employed by civic-minded newspapers will place
greater value on the interests and opinions of sports fans.
H2: Journalists employed by civic-minded newspapers will report paying greater
attention to public opinion vis-à-vis talk radio than journalists
employed by newspapers that do not subscribe to a civic-minded form
H3: Journalists employed by civic-minded newspapers will report
paying more attention to public opinion vis-à-vis Internet message
boards than journalists employed by newspapers that do not subscribe
to a civic-minded form of journalism.
H4: Journalists employed by civic-minded newspapers will report that
talk radio is a greater source of information than journalists
employed by newspapers that do not subscribe to a civic-minded form
H5: Journalists employed by civic-minded newspapers will report that
Internet message boards are a greater source of information than
journalists employed by newspapers that do not subscribe to a
civic-minded form of journalism.
H6: Journalists employed by civic-minded newspapers will report more
interaction with the public vis-à-vis talk radio than journalists
employed by newspapers that do not subscribe to a civic-minded form
H7: Journalists employed by civic-minded newspapers will report more
interaction with the public vis-à-vis Internet message boards than
journalists employed by newspapers that do not subscribe to a
civic-minded form of journalism.
Selection of Subjects
A Web-based survey was chosen for the study not only because of
convenience and cost, but also because it was the most appropriate
method for a study dealing with interactive media. A purposive sample
of subjects was selected from Editor and Publisher's online directory
of daily newspapers. The Editor and Publisher directory was used
because it is the most well-known, respected and credible reference
source about the newspaper industry (Singer, Tharp & Haruta, 1998).
Sports journalists at all daily newspapers that listed an e-mail
address were selected for participation in the study. Because so many
of the daily newspapers did not include the e-mail addresses of
sports journalists, the researchers accessed Web sites of the daily
newspapers and searched for the e-mail addresses of all sports
editors and reporters. Sports copy editors and sports photographers
were not included in the study. In all, a total of 3,383 sports
journalists were e-mailed and asked to participate in the study
during spring and summer 2004. Of that number, 362 e-mails were
returned because of bad e-mail addresses or identified as duplicate
e-mail addresses. This resulted in a sample size of 3,021. Of that
number, 393 journalists participated in the online survey, for a
total response rate of 13%. Journalists were contacted only once and
no follow-up e-mail message was sent. Although the response rate
appears low, it does fall within the range of previous documented
response rates for online surveys. Previous published research has
shown response rates for Web-based surveys as low as seven percent
and as low as six percent for e-mail surveys (Schonlau, Fricker &
Elliott, 2001). A number of research studies have indicated that
online or Internet-based surveys traditionally generate lower
response rates than traditional mail or phone surveys (Northey, 2005;
Sax, Gilmartin, & Bryant, 2003). One researcher has attributed the
low response rates often seen in online surveys to respondents'
suspicions about who is administering the survey and the
confidentiality of their responses (Sax, Gilmartin, & Bryant, 2003).
For this study, the e-mail message sent to journalists included a
link to the survey's host Web site, which could have generated
concern among participants. In fact, one of the researchers received
a number of inquiries from participants asking for assurance about
the e-mail's authenticity. The authors did take precautions to ensure
that participants knew the e-mail message was legitimate. The subject
line of the e-mail message gave the topic of the message ("sports
media survey"), while the text of the message explained the survey
topic, why the journalist was selected for participation and the
approximate time needed to complete the survey. The message also
included assurance of confidentiality for participants and contact
information for one of the authors, including name, title, university
affiliation, address, and phone number. Measures
The independent measure was newspaper civic-mindedness. Civic-minded
newspapers were identified from The Pew Center's list of previous
Batten Award winners and Pew Project awardees. The Pew Center
provides funding for civic journalism experiments in an effort to
improve news reporting and re-engage people in public life.
Traditional newspapers were identified as those newspapers that did
not appear on the list of previous Batten Award winners or Pew
The dependent measures and their operationalizations were as follows:
1) The value journalists place on fan interests and opinions. This
was assessed through two items that used response scales from 1
(strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree): "I value sports fans'
opinions" and "I want to know what sports fans are interested
in." The bivariate correlation between the two was .55. (p < .001).
2) Journalists' attention to interactive media as an indicator of
public opinion. This was assessed with three questions for each
medium, all of which used scales from 1 (never) to 5 (daily): "How
often do you (listen to sports talk radio/ read sports Internet
message boards)?" "How often do you (listen to sports talk radio/read
sports Internet message boards) to find out what sports fans are
saying?" and "How often do you (listen to sports talk radio/read
sports Internet message boards) to find out what topics sports fans
are interested in?" Cronbach's alphas were .87 for talk radio and
.93 for message boards.
3) Journalists' use of interactive media as a source of ideas and
information. This was measured with four questions for each
medium: "How often do you get tips/inside information from
(listening to sports talk radio/reading sports Internet message
boards)?"; "How often do you get story ideas by (listening to sports
talk radio/reading sports Internet message boards)?"; "How often
have you covered a topic because it was receiving discussion on
(sports talk radio/ sports Internet message boards)" and "How often
do you use information from the following sources when deciding what
sports stories to write about or cover?" Cronbach's alphas for the
four-item indices were .86 for talk radio and .85 for message boards.
4) Journalists' interaction with the public through interactive
media and references to ideas expressed therein. This was measured
through three questions for each medium: "How often have you
responded to something that was (said on sports talk radio/posted on
a sports Internet message board) by (calling in/posting a
response)?"; "How often have you referred to something that was said
on sports talk radio/posted on a sports Internet message board) by
referring to it in a column or sports report?" and "How often you use
the following methods to INTERACT with sports fans?" Cronbach's
alphas were .52 for radio and .67 for message boards.
The hypotheses were tested with independent-samples t-tests to
examine any differences between civic-minded newspapers and others in
their approach to interactive media. The results of the statistical
tests are reported in Table 1.
The first hypothesis, that sports reporters from civic journalism
newspapers will place more value on fans' opinions than other sports
journalists, is the basis for the rest of the hypotheses. But there
is no evidence of any difference. H1 is not supported.
The second and third hypotheses contended that sports journalists at
civic-minded newspapers would pay more attention to sports talk radio
(H2) and Internet message boards (H3) as a source of fan opinion than
would other sports journalists. Means for the civic group were
slightly higher, but the difference was nowhere near
significance. Neither H2 nor H3 are supported.
The fourth and fifth hypotheses posited that sports journalists at
civic-minded papers would consider sports talk radio (H4) and
Internet message boards (H5) a greater source of information than
sports journalists from other newspapers. What differences there
were between the groups ran counter to the hypotheses, and in any
case were not large enough to be significant. Neither H4 nor H5 are supported.
The sixth and seventh hypotheses were that sport journalists at
newspapers practicing civic journalism would interact more with the
public through sports talk radio (H6) and Internet message boards
(H7) than their counterparts at other newspapers. We found some
significant differences here, although they were not in the predicted
direction. Sports journalists at newspapers that did not subscribe
to civic journalism reported greater interaction with the public
through Internet message boards than journalists at civic-minded
newspapers, and a similar difference in interaction through sports
talk radio approached significance.
We start by addressing the non-findings for H1 first. Based on the
values espoused by civic journalism and previous studies that found
differences in news content between news media implementing civic
projects and traditional media, we presumed that a civic journalism
ethos evidenced in the newsroom would extend to the sports desk, and
that consequently sports journalists at such newspapers would value
citizen input more than other sports journalists. But there are few
civic journalism projects that involve sports journalists (for an
exception, see Sands, 2002), and it may be that civic journalism is
confined to the city desk at most newspapers practicing it.
More pessimistically, it may be that civic journalism projects don't
have much long-term impact on journalists, sports or otherwise. Our
data include only sports journalists, but Arant and Meyer (1998)
discovered that despite the high number of civic journalism projects
that have been implemented across the nation over the past 15 years,
few journalists stray from traditional journalistic practices. Massey
and Haas (2002) evaluated 47 civic journalism studies and determined
that civic journalism practices had limited effects on journalists'
attitudes and behaviors. One explanation might be that once the
media outlet's civic project is over, reporters go back to their
traditional ways. If this is the case, a journalist who works for a
newspaper that once did a civic journalism project would be no more a
"civic journalist" than any other, and our measure of what makes a
newspaper a "civic journalism" newspaper would have little
validity. If so, we would not expect to find any differences between
our two groups.
Given the findings for H1, it is not surprising that sports
journalists at civic journalism newspapers would pay no more
attention to fan opinions expressed on sports talk radio or Internet
message boards than other sports journalists. Nor is it surprising
that they don't consider these interactive media a greater source of
information than their counterparts do. It is also worth noting that
sports journalists as a whole were ambivalent about talk radio and
message boards as indicators of fan interest. They viewed attendance
at sporting events (M = 4.36), personal conversations with fans (M =
4.02) and conversations with other journalists (M = 3.30) as better
indicators on a 1-to-5 scale than talk radio (M = 2.95), which in
turn was higher ranked than message boards (M = 2.54), all t values
greater than 4.7, all p < .001. These sources of citizen input
outranked only sports information directors (M = 2.39) as indicators
of fan interest in the minds of sports journalists, and then only
radio (and not message boards) was significantly better regarded, t
(310) = 6.930, p < .001.
The more puzzling finding is that non-civic journalists would
interact more with the public through Internet message boards and
perhaps sports talk radio. One possible explanation for this finding
would be that sports journalists at civic newspapers may interact
more with sports fans through more traditional, interpersonal means
such as telephone, face-to-face conversations, or even e-mail and
fax. However, we measured frequency of these types of interactions
as well. We created an index of these four (a = .73) to test this
explanation, and the result was similar: sports journalists from
civic newspapers appear to interact with the public less frequently
(M = 13.02) than do their counterparts from other newspapers (M =
13.85), t (300) = 1.763, p < .10). This leaves us at even more of a
loss to explain. These differences could be chance, but they are
consistent with each other. Given our relatively low response rate,
there could be a self-selection bias that affects the results
here. Perhaps only the most interactive of non-civic journalists
responded, while the civic journalists most committed to interacting
with their communities considered this study from outside researchers
irrelevant to them.
Limitations of the present study include a low response rate,
although it was almost double that of some previously published
studies using Web-based or e-mail surveys (Schonlau, Fricker &
Elliott, 2001). In addition, there were no follow-up e-mail messages
sent to subjects. The sports journalists were contacted only once
about the survey. Future research should strive for an increased
response rate and should utilize traditional mail surveys either
alone or in combination with Web-based surveys to ensure a higher
response rate. Future research also should utilize qualitative
methods such as in-depth interviews and focus groups with sports
journalists from both traditional and civic newspapers to explore the
present study's counterintuitive finding that traditional
journalists, rather than civic journalists, interact more with the
public through both interpersonal and interactive communication
channels. Finally, it would be important for future researchers to
investigate to what extent civic journalism projects affect the
long-term values and behaviors of the journalists who work on them,
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Civic Journalism Newspapers vs. Others in Sports Journalists'
Attitudes and Behaviors Regarding Sports Talk Radio and Internet Message Boards
Values public's opinions
Attention to talk radio for opinions
Attention to message boards for opinions
Use of talk radio for information, ideas
Use of message boards for information, ideas
Interaction with talk radio
Interaction with message boards
Note. For civic group, N = 55 to 62. For other group, N = 247 to 307.