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Leaning Conservative:
Innovation and Presidential Campaign
Coverage by U.S. Newspaper Websites
in the Digital Age
International Symposium
on Online Journalism
Jane B. Singer, City University London
@janebsinger
What this study is about
Longitudinal study of presidential campaign
coverage in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 by major
online U.S. newspapers.
… To explore how editors incorporated changing
technologies and user capabilities.
The answer: Innovations were adopted each year.
But what mattered most to online editors remained
their own expanding capability to provide
traditional political information in new ways.
Journalists’ view of democracy
The journalist as a guardian of democracy,
through the ability to reliably inform citizens, has
become a nearly transcendent self-perception in
the face of ongoing changes, including the advent
of:
• Multimedia.
• Experiments with ‘converged’ newsrooms.
• Blogs and ‘j-blogs’.
• ‘User-generated content’ of various kinds.
• Social media.
… to name just a few.
Research questions
RQ1: To what extent did online editors of leading
U.S. newspapers incorporate new journalistic
capabilities in their campaign / election coverage
over the first four election cycles of the 2000s?
RQ2: To what extent did that incorporate new
audience capabilities during this time?
RQ3: How, if at all, did these capabilities shape
their own content choices?
Method
Electronically distributed questionnaires.
Open- and closed-ended questions, the latter
including goals and sources of pride.
Online editors of largest-circulation newspaper
in each state (plus DC), as well as additional
papers with print circulations over 250,000.
Response rate of 71% in 2000 … but downhill fast
since then. Still, sufficient data to suggest trends.
2000 election at a glance
Goals involved informing
users. Editors stressed
timeliness and ability to
provide details (addressing
criticisms about superficiality).
Potential to stimulate political
discourse among citizens / users was on the radar for
only a few – but those few were eloquent about the benefits.
Overall, traditional information-oriented roles remained
central. The Internet enabled journalists to do old things in
(somewhat) new ways.

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Singer

  • 1. Leaning Conservative: Innovation and Presidential Campaign Coverage by U.S. Newspaper Websites in the Digital Age International Symposium on Online Journalism Jane B. Singer, City University London @janebsinger
  • 2. What this study is about Longitudinal study of presidential campaign coverage in 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 by major online U.S. newspapers. … To explore how editors incorporated changing technologies and user capabilities. The answer: Innovations were adopted each year. But what mattered most to online editors remained their own expanding capability to provide traditional political information in new ways.
  • 3. Journalists’ view of democracy The journalist as a guardian of democracy, through the ability to reliably inform citizens, has become a nearly transcendent self-perception in the face of ongoing changes, including the advent of: • Multimedia. • Experiments with ‘converged’ newsrooms. • Blogs and ‘j-blogs’. • ‘User-generated content’ of various kinds. • Social media. … to name just a few.
  • 4. Research questions RQ1: To what extent did online editors of leading U.S. newspapers incorporate new journalistic capabilities in their campaign / election coverage over the first four election cycles of the 2000s? RQ2: To what extent did that incorporate new audience capabilities during this time? RQ3: How, if at all, did these capabilities shape their own content choices?
  • 5. Method Electronically distributed questionnaires. Open- and closed-ended questions, the latter including goals and sources of pride. Online editors of largest-circulation newspaper in each state (plus DC), as well as additional papers with print circulations over 250,000. Response rate of 71% in 2000 … but downhill fast since then. Still, sufficient data to suggest trends.
  • 6. 2000 election at a glance Goals involved informing users. Editors stressed timeliness and ability to provide details (addressing criticisms about superficiality). Potential to stimulate political discourse among citizens / users was on the radar for only a few – but those few were eloquent about the benefits. Overall, traditional information-oriented roles remained central. The Internet enabled journalists to do old things in (somewhat) new ways.
  • 7. 2004 election at a glance Providing credible information, quickly and in detail, remained a crucial goal and source of pride. But in a blog era, editors placed more emphasis on participatory options than they had in 2000. They seemed more open to the then-innovative idea that audiences could make valuable contributions to election coverage … a move toward perhaps re-envisioning the traditional journalistic role in an open, interactive space.
  • 8. 2008 election at a glance Or not. In an election year when social media came on strong, editors largely echoed their 2000 views, stressing speed, volume and the capability for detail in what the newsroom produced. It’s not that users weren’t able to contribute to these newspaper sites. They were, extensively. But editors thought that was cool mainly because of its potential to strengthen their own coverage.
  • 9. 2012 election: Content, goals Use of social media, mobile, live blogs and other innovations was extensive and creative. They also indicated increasing platform sophistication, seeing different strengths for print, mobile and website info delivery. As for their goals, respondents were unanimous: The main one was to help the public make educated choices. ‘We’ve got the drill down.’
  • 10. 2012 election: User input There also were lots of opportunities for user contributions, from user Twitter feeds to visual content to crowd-sourced coverage of events. But this abundance of user-generated riches typically played no role in their own coverage. Editors did, however, rather like the ability to turn users into content promoters, for instance by personalizing and sharing info. Website traffic was very much on their minds. Go figure.
  • 11. 2012 election: Sources of pride Overwhelmingly, editors highlighted political content that fulfilled their own traditional role as providers of thorough, timely information. They loved their voter guides. They loved their Election Night returns. They especially loved the fact that traffic figures were high. ‘We killed it.’ Citizen engagement? Twitter is kind of fun. So are interactive graphics. Beyond that … see above.
  • 12. 2000 to 2012: Sources of pride 2012 2008 2004 2000 Overall % 2000-2012 Depth / detail 45.9% 32.9% 39.1% 40.0% 38.5% Updated info 13.5% 14.1% 13.8% 30.5% 19.1% Journalist blogs 2.7% 21.2% 18.4% - 11.5% Multimedia / animation 5.4% 17.6% 8% 10.5% 11.2% Personalization 5.4% 11.8% 12.6% 4.2% 8.9% User contributions 8.1% 2.4% 8.0% 14.7% 8.6% Social media 16.2% - - - 2.0% Multiplatform (iPad) 2.7% - - - > 1%
  • 13. RQ1: Journalistic capabilities Online newspapers displayed an impressive amount of innovation in election coverage across these four years of the digital age. By 2012, they were live-streaming candidate interviews, thoroughly integrating video in their coverage, delivering multi-platform content … and despite proliferating competition for online attention, generating enough traffic to make their efforts financially as well as civically worthwhile.
  • 14. RQ2: User capabilities U.S. newspapers indeed created space online for user input. By 2012, there were myriad opportunities for users to contribute their own content and personalize what the paper provided. But editors expressed little enthusiasm for the value of this material. Few mentioned it as a source of pride or as a component of their goals for their website. And only rarely (and then minimally) was it incorporated into newsroom output.
  • 15. RQ3: Impact on coverage There was virtually no indication that what users said or did shaped journalists’ choices about the form or content of their campaign coverage. So options for users to contribute to political coverage are widely available. But despite a bit of buzz about blogs in 2004, there does not seem to have been an abiding increase in editors’ willingness to foreground these capabilities. Simply put, journalists see what they themselves do as far more civically valuable than what users do.
  • 16. Conclusion Journalists clearly are willing and able, maybe even eager, to be innovative in their own practices (particularly those that can boost traffic figures). They are far less willing to accommodate challenges to what they see as their occupational turf. Pride of place still goes to journalistic contributions to the democratic process. The information that citizens really need to be free and self-governing, they seem to be saying, if the information we and we alone provide.