OLD Media Moves

Biz journalists pressured by sources to write stories

May 7, 2012

Posted by Chris Roush

Business journalists often feel pressured by their sources to write stories that aren’t newsworthy and that could result in financial gain for those sources, according to research completed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Using a survey distributed to Society of American Business Editors and Writers members, honors student Victoria Stilwell found that sources use their status as trusted informants to profit financially from stories journalists write, based on responses to the survey.

Because human sources such as traders, company executives and public relations officials were viewed as the most important source of information, they often hold the upper hand when it comes to dealing with the media. This is underscored by the fact journalists don’t view themselves as an important information supplier to their own sources.

The survey also revealed that many journalists do write stories to stay in good standing with sources they deem critical to the news-making process. These stories were often described as newsworthy pieces that might be published in a blog or brief but were not otherwise prominently featured.

These stories were not only written at the behest of sources but were also requested by publishers and advertising staffs.

Almost 60 percent of stories written at the behest of a source were positive in nature. Furthermore, writing these stories carried out their intended effect — they strengthened the relationship between the journalist and his or her source.

The survey also investigated what role codes of ethics play in source relations. One question asked how frequently respondents consulted their codes. About 43 percent said they rarely to never look at them, while 33 percent said sometimes.

Most journalists attributed this to having ethics codes engrained in them and therefore not needing to frequently look at them.

For more information about this research, please contact Stilwell at toristilwell@gmail.com.

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