Survey criticises dailies for single-sourcing

Journalists rely too much on single sources for news to the extent that their role as scrutineers is under threat, according to a new survey by journalism academics.

The journalism department at Leeds Trinity and All Saints looked at 2,994 stories from four daily newspapers: the Halifax Courier, the Huddersfield Examiner, the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Bradford Telegraph & Argus. It found that 76 per cent of stories relied on just one source.

According to lecturers Deirdre O’Neill and Catherine O’Connor, who conducted the research: ‘We did this to try to build up a picture of the level of active journalism – which questions, challenges, provides readers with a diversity of perspectives and which is representative of the readership it serves.

‘Our findings show that the majority of news stories presented to the public rely on one person or organisation for information. The newspapers we studied frequently hinted at interested parties but did little to give them a voice.”

They added: ‘The three categories of story which generated the most copy were police, courts and local government.”

‘We were rather taken aback to discover that those three hard news sources were closely followed in the rankings by large volumes of ‘lightweight’stories emanating from staged events and charities.”

They pointed out that readers were tenth on order of importance in terms of sources (accounting for five per cent of stories) compared with police and court on 11 per cent each and councils on nine per cent.

The lecturers state: ‘As a result, it would appear the use of secondary sources is poor, lightweight stories are being pushed up the news agenda and readers have fallen alarmingly down the list of sources.
The research, entitled The Passive Journalist, chose these four papers because they were close to the college and represented three of the biggest regional news groups: Johnston Press (Halifax Courier and Yorkshire Evening Post), Newsquest (Bradford Telegraph & Argus) and Trinity Mirror (Huddersfield Daily Examiner).

Editors have hit back at the survey claims with onee saying it is “flawed and wrong-headed”.

For full story, see Press Gazette magazine. For more on this week’s mag, click here: In the magazine this week

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