Online credibility survey

Written by Adrian Holovaty on July 15, 2002

DallasNews.com and affiliates are conducting an online credibility survey that asks, "How credible are online news sources?" It claims to be "the largest online news survey ever undertaken on the credibility of online news sources." Evidently the study's results "will be used by journalists across the country to improve online news services."

I spent some time looking over the questions and was disheartened to find there was no attempt to determine a corrolation between credibility and good Web design; instead, most questions focused on content and usage patterns.

The lack of design questions is disappointing because past studies have shown that Web design can communicate trustworthiness, and credibility can be increased by the use of high-quality graphics. Clearly there's some kind of corrolation there, and it'd be interesting to see whether it extends to news sites.

A question like "Do you find well-designed news sites to be more credible than poorly designed sites?" would have made this survey more credible.

Comments

Posted by Raptor on July 15, 2002, at 6:29 p.m.:

I think it's odd that these credibility surveys treat Internet as a media category equivalent to radio, TV and newspapers. First, so much of the online news content is recycled from print and broadcast. And then there's Joe Blow's conspiracy site on Geocities and endless BBS rants and all the apocrypha, rumor and misinformation that permeates the Internet. It's not comparing apples and oranges. It's comparing apples with apples and oranges and bananas and a lot of other stuff that's gone ripe.

Posted by Rob on July 16, 2002, at 12:57 a.m.:

So what you're trying to say is that online news is less credible because there are other forms of content that use the medium? By that standard, you can disqualify print through the fact that tabloids exist, and broadcast through the fact that professional wrestling shares the same medium. I think it needs to be treated as an equal, and more -- it posseses a lot of the same characteristics as print and broadcast and less of the limitations. Sure, a good amount of news may now be "recycled" from print, but that won't always be the case. For instance, AP stories are posted immediately on the Web, and many times you'll end up reading the same story in the paper the next day. Your view of the Web is the type of thing that's holding back the medium, and why a good portion of journalists still don't get it. It's not 1996 anymore.

Posted by Paul Underwood on July 16, 2002, at 6:25 p.m.:

Speaking of news site credibility, it's time that holovaty.com weighs in on the redesign of America's Finest News Source, theonion.com. Apparently, their old design was realistic enough to fool (I believe) a Chinese newspaper, which reprinted an article about Congress threatening to leave if a new building isn't built. Will this new one produce similar results? Should it?

Posted by Raptor on July 16, 2002, at 8:05 p.m.:

Rob, that's not what I'm saying at all.

I should have actually looked at the DallasNews survey before weighing in. Mea culpa. I've seen a surfeit of credibility studies that compare the credibility of online vs. print vs. broadcast, which I've always found curious. On a certain level, treating online as a comparable category to print, radio and TV in credibility studies doesn't make sense. Online news content significantly overlaps print and, to a lesser extent, broadcast news. Some of these studies end up, for example, comparing the credibility of mainstream print news with "the Internet," which includes much of the same product we see in print along with a lot of other garbage. The fringe stuff in print, the photocopied zines for sale at your local bead shop, the skinhead newsletters, etc., are usually way off people's radar screens when they consider print news. But there is a tendency in some studies to view the Internet in the aggregate--mainstream and fringe and everything in between.

In short, no, I'm not at all saying that online news is less credible. I just question the validity of treating online news as a category comparable to print and broadcast news, both because of the content overlap with mainstream "old media" news and the vast amounts of fringe content that is, by nature of the technology, much more visible and accessible. It's a litle bit like comparing, say, the city of New York with the entire state of California.

I said in my previous comment that it was like comparing apples with apples and oranges. But it's also like comparing the same apple packaged two different ways.

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