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Journalists actively read and create content online, but their level of engagement varies by their beats, with political reporters leading the pack, according to a new study of North American journalists’ views of social media, particularly blogs.?

The study from Brodeur and Marketwire picks up where a previous one left off, and comprises parallel surveys of journalists covering different beats – politics, healthcare, lifestyle, technology, and travel.

The study measured not just the influence of social media but whether the impact on news coverage was positive or negative. Moreover, journalists were asked whether they visit some of the most popular sites in their area and how they view those sites’ credibility.

“The results suggest that journalists have a love/hate relationship with new media,” said Jerry Johnson, EVP, Brodeur Strategies.

Among the findings of the study:

  • Over half of reporters surveyed said they spent more than an hour per day with online news sources and blogs:

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  • Also, nearly half (47%) of all technology reporters and over one-third (38%) of political reporters said they blogged as part of their reporting:

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  • Over half of all reporters from all beats said social media and blogs are having a positive influence on the editorial direction of reporting:

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  • Reporters were also overwhelmingly positive on the influence of social media and blogs on the diversity of reporting, with approximately 4 in 5 indicating a positive influence:

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  • However, well over two-thirds of political reporters (77%) and half of lifestyle reporters (53%) said social media had a negative impact on the tone of coverage in their area, though healthcare, travel and technology reporters were more likely to say the opposite:

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Social media’s impact on the quality and accuracy of reporting were two areas that journalists on the whole view less favorably:

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  • Over two-thirds (67%) of lifestyle reporters, for example,?said social media was having a negative impact on the accuracy of reporting in their area.

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  • About the same percentage (64%) said it was having a negative impact on the quality of lifestyle reporting.

Reporters Rank Blogs, Online News Sites

The survey also asked reporters to rank some of the most popular social media news sites in their fields. Overall, the results suggest that in politics and technology – the two?areas in which beat reporters are most likely to be avid blog readers (see chart, below)?- a handful of online news sites are emerging as key media sources.

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The results also suggest that some of the sites most frequently visited by journalists are not the ones they believe are most credible.

Lifestyle Journalists

  • Of the 10 sites tested, the most popular were TMZ, Perez Hilton, and MSN Lifestyle. 29% of reporters said they checked TMZ at least several times a month, 23% for Perez Hilton, and 15% for MSN Lifestyle.
  • When it came to the most credible content, of those tested the top three ranked sites were MSN Lifestyle, AOL Living, and TMZ: Among lifestyle reporters surveyed, 80% said MSN Lifestyle and AOL Living were very or somewhat credible, and 64% said the same for TMZ.

Political Journalists

  • Of the 10 sites tested among political reporters, the most popular were Huffington Post, Real Clear Politics, Talking Points Memo, and Daily Kos.
  • About the remaining six sites, approximately two-thirds of political reporters said they’d never read them.
  • When it came to credibility of content, Huffington Post and Daily Kos topped the list with well over two-thirds of reporters saying their content was very or somewhat credible.
  • Real Clear Politics and Talking Points Memo scored highest among political journalists in the category of “very credible” content: Nearly half (46%) and over one-third (39%) said their content was “very credible.”

Technology Journalists

  • Tech reporters ranked Engadget, Gizmodo, and Boing Boing as by far the most popular among the top 10 tested.
  • But when it comes to credibility of content, journalists rated Arstechnica and GigaOm, along with Engadget, the top three sites. GigaOm scored the highest, with 45% saying its content was “very credible.”

Travel Journalists

  • Tripadvisor and Frommers were by far the most frequented by journalists. Very few of the top 10 sites tested were visited on a daily or weekly basis.
  • When it came to credibility of content, Frommers topped the list; however, journalists also gave high scores to Forbes Traveler and Travel Channel – higher scores than the more frequented Yahoo Travel and Tripadvisor.

Healthcare Journalists

  • The “big four” health sites followed by healthcare journalists were NIH, WebMD, Mayo Clinic and MSN Health. All of the remaining top 10 sites tested were far less likely to be followed regularly (or at all!) by healthcare journalists.
  • For health reporters, views on credibility largely mirrored their active engagement. NIH and Mayo were, by far, viewed as the most credible of all sources of healthcare information, followed by WebMD and MSN Health.

About the study: The Brodeur study consisted of five online surveys taken between April 2 and April 18, 2008. Email invitations were issued to a random sample of reporters in North America from five different beats – technology, travel, healthcare, lifestyle, and politics. Approximately 3,500 email invitations were issued per “beat” with total completed respondents as follows: technology (n=101); lifestyle (n=92); healthcare (n=119); travel (n=70); politics (n=69).

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