Transparency

The traditional news medium requires the reader to accept the validity of news stories and its facts, however journalists and news organisations are becoming less and less trusted. To combat this distrust, there must be ways for journalists and news organisations to protect themselves. This is where transparency comes in.

Transparency is an abstract notion, however it’s an important one. Gaye Tuchman, professor at University of Connecticut, said “the correct handling of a story, that is, the use of certain procedures discernible to the news consumer, protects journalists from the risks of their trade, including critics” (Tuchman, p.661, 1972), this meant that journalistic routines should be communicated to the audience.

For journalists and news organisations to protect themselves, they must be open and truthful with their reporting. This typically meant using more than one source of information for facts in the news stories, however since the advancement of online news, there have been many other ways to be transparent to your audience.

Michael Karlsson’s paper Rituals of Transparency in a publication called Journalism Studies listed two archetypes of transparency: disclosure transparency and participatory transparency.

He explains disclosure transparency is the news producers explaining how news is selected and made (Karlsson, p.537, 2010). This form of transparency communicates to the audience, but not necessarily with the audience. Examples of this sort of transparency would be if newspapers acknowledged a previous mistake and printed a correction and apology in a future edition. In the online world, disclosure transparency could be using hyperlinks to link to sources or the use of timestamps of publication and/or edit.

He explains participatory transparency is the process of including the audience in the news production process (Karlsson, p.538, 2010). In the paper, Mark Deuze explains this as “the increasing ways in which people both inside and external to journalism are given a chance to monitor, check, criticize and even intervene in the journalistic process” (Karlsson, p.538, 2010). This sort of transparency requires the use of interactive features within news websites such as commenting, forums, or the ability to edit/correct news articles.

Case Study: New York Times, The Guardian and Dagens Nyheter

Michael Karlsson did a case study in his paper of the online editions of three newspapers: New York Times, The Guardian and Dagens Nyheter.

The case study looked at 335 articles on the homepages of these news organisations over a period of a week to investigate the level of transparency in these news organisations’ journalism.

He argued that to perform this case study properly, he had to investigate per article, because it was only at the article-level that these transparencies can be studied.

The transparency features he looked at were: timestamps, corrections, external links, links to original documents, email author, commenting, discussions, polls, reader news, reader collaboration requested, reader contribution published, reporting error in news items.

Here is the table of the results of the case study:

casestudyimagebig

Image: Michael Karlsson

Timestamp

Timestamp

Timestamps: The Guardian leads the way in their usage of timestamps with 89% of their homepage articles making use of either timestamp of publication or timestamp of update or both versus 3% for both New York Times and Dagens Nyheter.

Corrections: The Guardian and Dagens Nyheter were the only ones, with 3% and 7% of articles studied, in the case study to publish corrections.

Hyperlinks (external): New York Times was the most open in this regard with 51% of their articles having external links to their sources versus The Guardian’s 17% and Dagens Nyheter’s 5%.

Hyperlinks (original documents): New York Times again the most open with 13% of their articles containing links to their original research documents versus The Guardian and Dagen Nyheter’s 1%.

Article author’s email visible: The Guardian and Dagens Nyheter made use of this feature with with 44% and 42% respectively of their articles publishing the email address of the article author in the articles.

Author email

Author email
Image: David Yip

Commenting: Featured on all three sites but to different extent with Dagens Nyheter being the most open in this regards with 46% of their articles allowing their readers to comment versus The Guardian’s 22% and New York Time’s 29%.

Guardian's commenting system

Guardian’s commenting system
Image: David Yip

Discussions: Only Dagens Nyheter had a discussion forum feature in their website.

Bloglinks: Only Dagens Nyheter articles had links to external websites and articles that linked back that article.

Dagens Nyheter Bloglink system

Dagens Nyheter Bloglink system
Image: David Yip

Chatrooms/Polls: Once again, only Dagens Nyheter allowed users to communicate through chatroom and voice their opinions through polls.

Poll results in thejournal.ie

Poll results in thejournal.ie
Image: David Yip

Invitation to participate: Only Dagens Nyheter and New York Times used this feature, with 2% and 1% respectively inviting their audience to provide more information to the article.

A BBC article asking viewers for information

A BBC article asking viewers for information
Image: David Yip

Publication of user contribution: Again, only Dagens Nyheter and New York Times published user submitted information in their articles.

Invitation to report an error: The Guardian (100%) and Dagens Nyheter (85%) had a functionality that allowed their readers to report an error to the editor or article author.

Overview: Nearly all articles in this case study contained at least one feature of transparency. Dagens Nyheter scored the lowest with 99% while all articles from The Guardian and New York Times contained at least one feature of transparency.

Case Study: The Irish Times

A case study was done on The Irish Times for this article with regards to the transparency features above.

Ten articles were picked at random on The Irish Times homepage and were investigated as to how transparent their articles were.

All of the articles chosen contained at least one of the above transparency features however different articles used different features.

Seven articles allowed their users to comment. All articles made use of timestamps, however three articles had only the date of publication of the article, while three articles had the date and time of publication and four had the date and time of article publication and article update. Seven articles allowed their users to email the article author.

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Karlsson, Michael, 2010. Rituals of Transparency. <Available at: https://onlinejournalismteam7.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/14616701003638400.pdf>

Tuchman, Gaye, 1972. Objectivity as Strategic Ritual: All Examination of Newsmelŕs Notions of Objectivity. <Available at: http://intranet.catie.ac.cr/>

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