July 18, 2011

Non-Profit News

Navigating the News Consumer Through New Terrain

The following offers some possible ways for consumers to adapt the method used in this study to take stock of a news site they encounter.

Consumer Check #1: Transparency
Examine the website. Find and read through the “About” section. Look at what it says about its mission, the background of the staff and the source of funding. A site that explains these items in detail, provides links to its funders, lists its individual donors and reports its financials is more transparent. This study suggests that this transparency tends to be associated with sites that also offer more balanced and diverse reporting.

Consumer Check #2: Range of Viewpoints
While reading a story, readers can check how much effort a story makes to include relevant and competing viewpoints. First, look for stories that involve a clear controversy in which competing viewpoints would be expected. Then assess, from the quotes in the story, whether differing viewpoints on the issue are present and the extent to which they are given space. Then check other stories. If a lot of the stories have mostly one viewpoint, that suggests a narrowness in perspective.

Consumer Check #3: Story Theme
The story theme can help consumers get a sense of whether the site has a particular point of view underlying its reporting and story selection. Evaluating this also involves reading through a number of stories. After reading several, ask what the main theme of each story was. If the themes tend to tilt solidly in one political direction over another, this amounts to a point of view in coverage. Do those themes also correlate with the viewpoints in check No. 2? The findings in this study suggest that often this is the case.

Consumer Check #4: Reporting Capacity
This study suggests that the non-profit news outlets that have the most robust news operations tend also to offer more balanced and diverse reporting. Information on the news staff can usually be found in the “About” section of the site. Look for the number of listed staff and contributors. How many are full time? And do some work on a volunteer basis?  (You can also scan their bios for their journalistic experience). Take note of the number of new, originally reported news stories over the previous week. How many new stories were posted? Finally, look at the bylines that appear at the top of the stories. How many different names appear? If all stories are reported by one or two individuals, this suggests a low capacity for reporting. The study finds that larger staffs and more dispersed bylines tend to be associated with more diverse and balanced
reporting.