Survey: Online journalists more optimistic about future of journalism than newspaper or TV journalists

Digital journalists are optimistic about the future of their industry, more so than those working for more traditional media outlets, according to a new survey of select members of the Online News Association produced by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Full release:

Online journalists optimistic about potential
in revenue, technology
Washington, D.C., March 30, 2009 – Digital journalists are optimistic about the future of their industry, more so than those working for more traditional media outlets, according to a new survey of select members of the Online News Association (ONA) produced by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

“I think there’s a huge potential in online journalism, but there’s also a lot of scary stuff out there …,” said one respondent. “We have to try to not lose our way.”

This optimism also applies to the economics of the online news business. More than 60% say their online units currently are making a profit, and four in 10 respondents are

very confident that online news can find a profitable model.

For now, these economic hopes are largely pinned on Internet advertising, which began flattening out in 2008, and has further declined. Roughly two-thirds of journalists surveyed predict advertising will be the most important form of revenue at Web sites in three years. Only a quarter of respondents named an alternative model.

This survey is just a snapshot of our 1,800 members, said ONA Executive Director Jane McDonnell. With all of the doom and gloom surrounding legacy media, we wanted to separate out what journalists working in the digital arena really are experiencing and thinking — and they appear confident there will be shake-out for the better.

The respondents were less likely to think journalism is headed in the “wrong direction” than journalists from legacy media. Fully 91

% praised some aspect of available technology, 30% saw value in the diversity of voices and half believe the move toward more overtly ideological points of view at news sites is a good thing.

More than half, however, believe the internet is changing the fundamental values of journalism

more often than not for the worse. Among the biggest changes cited are a loosening of standards (45%), more outside voices reducing the clout of journalists (31%) and an increased emphasis on speed (25%).

These are some of the findings of a survey of nearly 300 members of ONA, produced jointly with the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which drafted the questionnaire. The survey was administered by Princeton Survey Research Associates. The survey is a special report included in the Project’s annual report on the health and status of the news industry, the State of the News Media 2009.

Among other findings:

  • When asked what online journalism is doing especially well these days, many named aspects of technology such as using advancements to create rich, engaging media (31%) and reaching out quickly to audiences, as well as giving readers a voice (30%). Lower on the list were new forms of storytelling (16%) or exploiting the potential for greater depth or analysis (12%).
  • The vast majority of the respondents (77%) work in for-profit models. And a majority, 61%, say their sites are currently turning a profit. Notable here is the fact that two-thirds of those in for-profit models (67%) say their sites are subsidized by their legacy media outlets. Less than a third (29%) are either an online-only entity or separate from the legacy outlet.
  • Six in 10 (63%) respondents ranked original reporting as the most important type of information they produce. This was more than four times as much as the second choice, aggregated material from wires and other legacy outlets (13%).
  • Three-quarters of the surveyed ONA members said their sites’ home pages are “essential to getting their content to users.” This is nearly three times the number that named e-mail alerts (26%) and RSS (26%). Just 9% considered posting to social media sites essential and postings on YouTube were named essential by 4%.

Read the complete survey (pdf) on Journalists.org.


The Online News Association is the world’s largest association of online journalists. ONA’s mission is to inspire innovation and excellence among journalists to better serve the public. The membership includes news writers, producers, designers, editors, bloggers, technologists, photographers and others who produce news for the Internet or other digital delivery systems, as well as academic members and others interested in the development of online journalism. ONA also administers the Online Journalism Awards.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism specializes in using empirical methods to evaluate and study the performance of the press, particularly content analysis. PEJ, a non partisan, non ideological and non political organization, is part of the Pew Research Center in Washington D.C., and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

For more information, contact:

Jane McDonnell, Executive Director

Online News Association
director@journalists.org

Amy Mitchell, Deputy Director

Project for Excellence in Journalism
amitchell@journalism.org

Sherry Skalko, Editor, Journalists.org

Online News Association