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May 11 2011


Trust in mainstream media outdoes social media

You can almost hear journalists across newsrooms in Canada breathing a sigh of relief.

Canadians still trust the mainstream media, despite the rise of social media, according to the latest Canadian Media Research Consortium (CMRC) report.

According to a recent online survey of 1,682 adults, nine out of 10 Canadians judged information provided by traditional news media to be reliable and trustworthy. This compares to only one in four who say information from social networks is reliable.

It is the latest in a series of studies by researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, including myself, into the changing news consumption habits of Canadians.

“In an era of increasing fragmentation and competition for established news media, this is good news for traditional journalism,” said Fred Fletcher, UBC Graduate School of Journalism adjunct professor and lead author of the study, Even in the Digital Era, Canadians Have Confidence in Mainstream News Media (PDF).

The study did show that younger Canadians are more likely than their elders to have confidence in non-traditional news providers. But they still retain strong confidence in the mainstream media as well.

Our findings also suggest a difference in attitude towards social media between those who are immersed in this media ecosystem and those who are not part of this world.

Confidence in the information found on social networking sites is higher among frequent visitors to social networks. Among Canadians who visit social networks at least daily, some 40 per cent regard the information found there as reliable.

In contrast, virtually everyone surveyed who doesn’t use social media ranked it as not reliable as a source for information.

Given the growing influence of social networks in the distribution of news, it will be interesting to track how levels of confidence evolve over the coming years as a generation grows up with social media woven into their daily lives.

The Canadian Media Research Consortium report is based on an online survey of a representative national sample of 1,682 adults conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. The results were statistically weighted according to the most current Statistics Canada data on age, gender, region, and education to ensure a representative sample.

May 02 2011


Canadians Prefer to Get News from Friends (not Editors) on Social Media

Journalists today are expected to be active on social media, sharing observations, anecdotes and links with their audience. Facebook itself is reaching out to newsrooms, recently launching the Journalists on Facebook page as a resource for the media.

But a study from Canada suggests more people prefer to get their news via their friends and acquaintances on social media, than from a journalist or news organization. And there are mixed signals as to whether audiences think journalists should be using Twitter in their professional work.

I was the lead author of the study, "Social Networks Transforming How Canadians Get the News," from the Canadian Media Research Consortium (CMRC). It gave further evidence of the impact social media is having on how people get the news and from whom. Social media services are turning into personalized news streams for Canadians of all ages, who rely on their digital circle of friends, family and acquaintances to alert them to interesting news and information.

The CMRC study is based on an online survey of a representative national sample of 1,682 adults conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion. The margin of error -- which measures sampling variability -- is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

Keeping up with the news was one of the attractions of social networks for more than two-thirds of social media users. Every day, almost half of social media users in Canada get some of their news every day via links and recommendations from friends, family and colleagues who broadened their horizons, the study found.

A study by Pew Research last year found a similar trend taking place in the U.S., as news consumers increasingly shared links and recommendations in their social networks.

Your friend as your news editor

People have always shared the news, from discussing last night's news bulletin to sending a newspaper clipping. But social media is extending the ability of audiences to influence the distribution and reach of news.

The CMRC study points to the growing influence of users to decide what is seen and read, as newsrooms jump onto social media platforms as a new way to distribute content and reach a bigger audience.

The survey showed that Canadians were twice as likely to get news from friends on social networks than from journalists or official news accounts. Only one in five said they receive news from a media outlet on social networks. For Twitter, only one in ten get their news from tweeting journalists.

cbc news alerts.jpg

The figures signal that it is more important for a newsroom to get others to share and recommend content than to do it through an official account. The study suggests that the more than 18 million Canadians on Facebook and almost 5 million on Twitter are becoming the news editors for their social circles, deciding whether a story, video or other piece of content is interesting enough to recommend.

Should Journalists Tweet?

As journalists increasing use Twitter and tap into social media for reporting, networking and storytelling, the CMRC study strikes a note of caution. Canadians were evenly divided on whether news organizations should include information gleaned from social media into their reports.

There was a similar ambivalence when it came to whether journalists should even use Twitter to report the news. While 39 percent said yes, 34 percent said no and 26 percent were unsure. The ambiguous results suggest that Twitter may just be too new for audiences to decide whether it is a good or bad thing for the media.


Perhaps more significantly, younger Canadians were much more comfortable with a more social type of journalism, which is not surprising given how social media has become woven into the fabric of their lives.

The CMRC study found that a majority of under-34-year-olds in Canada use social media regularly, and that younger adults tended to be heavier users. Students, in particular, were much more comfortable with the idea of journalists integrating social media content into their reporting.

Similarly, just over half of students agreed that journalists should use Twitter to help report on trends and issues. The figures suggest a generational divide in attitudes toward social media and journalism.

For example, the study found that virtually no one over 55 follows journalists on Twitter. But kids who have grown up with the social web seem far more accepting of news organizations and journalists integrating these new services into their daily routines.

The conundrum for media organizations

Social media presents tremendous possibilities for journalists to reach audiences, expand their range of sources and engage with communities. The changing consumption patterns for news also raise questions for media organizations.

younger use of social nets.jpg

Sharing the news is becoming an important part of how people experience the news. The CMRC study found that 64 percent of news consumers value being able to easily share content, rising to 83 percent for those under the age of 34. But those "share" and "like" buttons tend to point users towards Facebook or Twitter, undermining existing mass media business models based on delivering large audiences to advertisers.

While social media creates new opportunities for the news industry to reach and engage audiences, particularly younger Canadians, it also represents competition for consumer attention and revenue. It further fragments the audience and potentially could signal a shift in reader loyalty from a news brand to their social circle.

Alfred Hermida is the lead author on the CMRC report on social media. He is an online news pioneer and digital media scholar. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.

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April 29 2011


Why audiences read journalist blogs

Blogs have become part of the furniture of online news sites, with many journalists enthusiastically taking up blogging as part of their daily routine.

The CMRC study on news habits and social media just released shows that a minority of Canadians, 21 per cent, say they read or follow particular journalists online, through blogs or  social networks. But the figure doubles to 43 per cent for students.

As part of the research team, I wanted to find out whether journalistsʼ perceptions of the value of blogging matched those of news consumers.

Blogging is a form of social media that provides the news media with an easy to use publishing platform. Blogs specifically, and social media in general, offer a way to write about the news in a more conversational, informal and personal manner.

Journalists tend to use blogs to offer information that does not fit into a standard news report, as well as to provide some commentary and analysis on issues.

What we found that the main reasons people turned to journalist blogs was to get additional information about a story (61 per cent) or because they enjoyed reading the posts (59 per cent).

Just over half, 51 per cent, said blog posts helped them get a better understanding of the story, and 45 per cent said they were interested in the behind-the-scene details of a story.

But I was surprised to see that audiences were less enthusiastic about the ability to connect and engage with journalists via their blogs. Only a third said they follow journalists online to learn more about them or to share their views on a story.

The results suggest that most readers do not particularly value the social aspect of journalist blogs.

However, the figures tell a different story for young Canadians, particularly students.

Two-thirds of students said they follow journalists online to learn more about them. A similar number appreciated the ability to leave comments and feedback.

Our findings suggest that younger readers, especially those in college, see the appeal in the more personal, open and interactive form of journalism offered by blogs.

The Canadian Media Research Consortium report is based on an online survey of a representative national sample of 1,682 adults conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. The results were statistically weighted according to the most current Statistics Canada data on age, gender, region, and education to ensure a representative sample.

April 28 2011


March 30 2011


Canadians don’t want to pay for the news online

In the week the New York Times introduced digital subscriptions, a Canadian study shows that consumers just don’t want to pay for the news.

An online survey of 1,682 adults, conducted by the Canadian Media Research Consortium (CMRC )and Vision Critical, showed that Canadians are overwhelmingly opposed to fees for content.

It found that 92% of Canadians who get news online say they would find another free site if their favourite news site started charging for content.

The findings suggest that news as an online commodity has little monetary value in the eyes of the consumer. What is less clear is whether people would pay for the service and convenience of having the news packaged in emerging delivery mechanisms, such as an iPhone/iPad app.

Among the other key findings:

  • 81% say they definitely will not pay to continue reading their favourite online news site.
  • Up to 30% indicate they would definitely or probably pay, if there were no other choice.
  • Charges are most acceptable for breaking news (28%) or hard news (22%). 19% indicate they would pay for international news and 16% would purchase feature and analytical news.

Perhaps not surprising, most news consumers (82%) were happy to accept advertising alongside content, if it meant the news was free

Canadians, though, are more willing to pay for music, games, movies, e- books and even ringtones online than they are to pay for news.  But it is only a minority: 26% cent already pay for music; 19% pay for games; 9% for movies; 8% for e-books and 12% for ringtones.

I am part of the research team behind the study, which is the first in a series of reports that looks into the changing news consumption habits of Canadians.

The full report is available as a PDF download.



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