International media coverage of student opinions on newspapers. 3

It all began with a simple news release. I had surveyed about two hundred of my journalism students and found that while 95% said they enjoyed keeping up with the news, more than sixty percent said they read a newspaper once a week or less.”If the journalists of the future don’t want to read newspapers, who will?” I asked in the media release.

Australia’s Radio National Breakfast show followed it up with an interview. That sparked a series of interviews and talk backs with local radio stations, as well as Radio Australia. The story moved onto the web with the Brisbane and ABC online. It rapidly spread across the globe, getting a particularly good run in India in outlets like the Deccan Post (India), the Hindu and the Sentinel. I was interviewed by a young blogger called Ben Grubb for his blog Other bloggers picked up the story, including Woolly Days, who corrected a mistake made by other correspondents in interpreting the data, which had been repeated elsewhere.

Conventional newspapers seemed uninterested in the story. This was odd because the survey had been prompted by by a conversation I had with the editor of the local daily, who said he wanted to know what journalism students thought about the future of newspapers. I did get an email from the Washington Post. However, the reporter was interested in whether it had been me who made the mistake with the data. When I was able to show it wasn’t me, he seemed to lose interest.

However, the international responses continue. Today, I am reviewing the survey questions to produce a “vanilla” version which can be completed by communications and journalism students across Asia.
It will work like this. Academics in Jakarta, Manila, Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur have agreed to be involved.
I will send them a pdf of the vanilla questions. They can amend these questions to suit local conditions. EG One of the Australian questions refers to “community radio”; a form of broadcasting which does not exist in some Asian countries. This reference can be edited out, while the core of the survey remains common.
The collaborating academics will send me an edited version of the survey, which I will then place online for their students.
The results will be compiled centrally and presented in an academic paper I will give at the international AMIC conference in New Delhi in July.

Alan Knight



  1. Release a case of premature speculation?Good to see Alan. I thought the reporting of the story was generally poor. The ABC coverage mentioned nothing about the survey size, whether the survey was undertaken with new students or established students, whether there had been an ethics clearance for the research or whether the research was published. None that I saw published a link to the research so readers could make up their own mind about the validity of the survey. Too often media organisations jump on media releases from Universities to fill a space, believing validity exists because the release comes from a University. But the metaphorical white coat that drapes itself over a media release should not make it more credible. I think the story had legs for a few reasons, but why do you think it odd that newspapers wouldn’t touch it? Newspapers have always been reluctant to tell existing readers there is a downward drift in numbers (unless they are the numbers of a rival or rivals) because the reader hanging on does not want to think they are behind in a trend. I can tell you a friend was in conference discussing this press release and the COS said readers do not want to read about “how they are dinosaurs”. Newspapers love discussing spikes in circulation, but not the other way around. I think what is more odd here is that the electronic media, industrial journalism websites excluded, published this story without any interrogation of the methodology. This critique is not aimed at the survey or methodology, but is directed at the reporting of the story. Failure to mention these things assumes readers are incapable of making a call for themselves. But it makes as a useful tool for teaching the next generation about the metaphorical white coat that apparently envelopes the press release emanating from the University issued press release. I can’t imagine a press release from medicine getting such a run without those important words referring to its publication in the BMJ, Nature or some other such journal. No publication, no credibility seems to be a good rule of thumb for media organisations flooded with guff from University PR departments. Surely the release was a case of premature speculation. I genuinely look forward to the next instalment from overseas.

  2. I think you are asking quite a lot of journalists, who respond quickly to the information they receive.I agree there were factual inaccuracies in some of the reporting.However, I can’t remember an electronic media report which interrogated academic methodology. Most journalists edit out the detail we are accustomed to in more turgid academic work. But for the record, there were two hundred first year students involved in the study which had ethical clearance. As for credibility; I am not sure that the test is “No publication, no credibility”. Credibility can relate to the person being quoted. In this case, I certainly wasn’t anonymous. The media release was made about a work in progress based on preliminary results.

  3. Pingback: The Daily Miracle ; a very short history of journalists and computers « Online Journalism

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