The Passive Journalist: How sources dominate the local news

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O'Neill, Deirdre ; O’Connor, Catherine (2008)

This study explores which sources are “making” local news and whether these sources are simply indicating the type of news that appears, or are shaping newspaper coverage. It provides an empirical record of the extent to which sources are able to dominate news coverage from which future trends in local journalism can be measured. The type and number of sources used in 2979 sampled news stories in four West Yorkshire papers, representing the three main proprietors of local newspapers in the United Kingdom, were recorded for one month and revealed the relatively narrow range of routine sources; 76 per cent of articles cited only a single source. The analysis indicates that journalists are relying less on their readers for news, and that stories of little consequence are being elevated to significant positions, or are filling news pages at the expense of more important stories. Additionally, the reliance on a single source means that alternative views and perspectives relevant to the readership are being overlooked. Journalists are becoming more passive, mere processors of one-sided information or bland copy dictated by sources. These trends indicate poor journalistic standards and may be exacerbating declining local newspaper sales.
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