Eesti veebitoimetajate ajakirjanduslikud praktikad
This Master’s thesis concentrates on the journalistic practices of Estonian online news editors, using qualitative and quantitative analysis of the news published in one day in two major web portals in Estonia – Postimees.ee and Delfi – and the 182 press releases tht were sent out during the same day. In addition, five interviews with journalists and two observation days were conducted in the newsrooms of these news portals. As no previous study known to the author has mapped the work processes of online news editors in Estonia, an important part of this thesis was providing an overview of work processes and -tasks of online news editors, providing necessary insight into their journalistic practices. Generally, an important factor in journalistic practies of online news editors is the need to produce as many news as possible, that would receive as many “clicks” from the readers as possible, and the high working speed deriving from the previous factors. On the average, an online news editor produces ten news a day, mostly editing the PR information sent to the newsroom or referring the material of other news publications. Considering the speed of work, there is not much time to delve into each news item – mostly the news are edited based on pre-written text, a few phone calls per day are made to gather more information. Online news editors very rarely leave their workplace to gather more information. The analysis of the news day showed that more than half of the news in Estonia’s two biggest online news portals are based on referring the information of other news sources, a quarter of one (Postimees) and third of the other (Delfi) portal’s news were based on press releases and respectively 13 and 16% were the portals’ own production. This is not coherent with the results of previous similar studies in other news channels (Erjavec, 2005; Lewis, Williams and Franklin, 2008; Veiksaar-Kutti, 2005), according to which more than half of the news are based on PR material. This result can be explained with the specifics of online news, where the larger volume of information and great working speed cause the need to use news pre-produced by other channels. In the observed day, 182 press releases were sent to Estonian news organisations, more than every fifth (41) of them became a news item. Public sector organisations were most successful here – more than 30% of their press releases made it to the news. The least newsworthy press releases (12%) were sent by the third sector, disregarding the large number of press releases (75) sent out by third sector organisations that day. Here, the difference is visible between the organisations that can afford to hire professional PR people and the ones that can not. The first kind also produce more press releases every day, however no correlation was found between the number of press releases sent out in a day and their success in making it to the news. An online news editor makes the decision whether a press release will be news or not mostly already when reading the heading and sender’s name – most PR material is deleted at this level of selection. If the press release makes it through the first “sieve”, the final decision is made during reading the first few paragraphs. All the interviewed journalists said that when reading a particular press release, they instantly know “whether this is newsworthy or not”, and they do not weigh the news value of press information knowingly. This theory confirms the earleir studies (Schulz, 1996; Eilders, 2007) which show that the newsworthiness of materials can be predicted, since the journalists mostly perceive news values alike. Disregarding the automation of news value evaluation processes the journalists still named classical news values when they were asked to analyse the key reasons in their decision-making processes of news selection. Hence, the classic “gatekeeper” concept of journalistic data selection – the process where the journalist makes constant selections, which information to publish and which not – is still valid in the decision-making processes of online news editors. In the same time, the role of the gatekeeper has shifted from an individual process into a more collective form – instead of one person’s head, these selection processes are now made collectively in the newsroom. During the process, all the journalists are ! 55! trying to grab as attractive news item as possible (to produce more clicks and be more effective), and the least attractive items will go unpublished. Undoubtedly, the amount of effort spent on editing a news piece plays an important role in the selection process, yet the journalists assured that no newsworthy subject will remain unpublished because it needs a lot of editing. The comparative text analysis of 41 press releases and the 49 news items based on them showed that the press releases are not edited much – 67% of the press releases were edited little (20) or almost not at all (13). A large part of the editing process is linguistic, e.g. the press release’s synthax is edited into a more news-like style or long and clumsy quotes are reworded. In five cases, the editor had called the source to obtain additional information and in only one case, the opposing point of view had been added to the press information. Thus, most online news are based on one source only. In the same time, the text analysis and interviews showed that rather the PR information from the public sector and cultural organisations makes it to the news in an unchanged form and that shameless advertorial text will not pass the editors’ sieve – today, most PR people have learned to avoid this format as well. However, less transparent methods are used for passing the news threshhold, e.g. sending the press release outside the classik working hours or packaging the information of one’s organisation as a general interest news item, taking over an expert role themselves. This thesis can be viewed as the initial mapping of online news editors’ journalistic practices and testing the combination of different methods in conducting this type of research. Without a doubt, the author would see gladly that the research of this interesting and largely unresearched topic would be continued in the scope of future research projects.
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