International news on the internet: Why more is less - Institute of ...

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International news on the internet: Why more is less - Institute of ...

companies which began on the web (NandoTimes or Out There News are well known examples).By the end of the period in question, the term‘ong>newsong> aggregator’ had come into wide use,although it is deceptive. The aggregators maybe portals or search engines which have developedmechanisms for retrieving, selecting,ranking, and linking to a massive amount ofong>newsong> posted to other parts of cyberspace.Some, like Google News, began this way, whileothers, like Yahoo, evolved from being mostlyan online outlet for the wire services to anaggregator of ong>newsong> from what appear to bethousands of ong>newsong> outlets. The question ofappearance is crucial, though, for this researchdemonstrates that despite such apparentchoice international ong>newsong> still comes from fewsources – the international ong>newsong> agencies.Online ong>newsong> distributionThe portals, aggregators, and search engineswhich are the leading online ong>newsong> providershave substantially merged into the same thing.In the last five years portals have transformedinto aggregators to make the apparently enormousamount of ong>newsong> on the Internet easilyavailable to their audience – while holding thataudience. There are two key distinctions. Oneis between sites that produce original contentand those that don’t, although Yahoo especiallyis blurring that distinction; and the otheris between those with human control overong>newsong> selection and those pioneering automatedselection, of which Google News is theleader. Google News was created in 2002 amidgreat hype about its ‘automated editing’, butthe service provides a range of ong>newsong> on multipletopics just as the more established onlineservices did; it just provides far more of it.When compared to the ong>newsong> selection underwayat other mainstream ong>newsong> websites,Google News has been found to consistentlypick the same stories (White 2003). 3 Is thisevidence of the genius of Google’s algorithms,or evidence that journalists everywhere determineong>newsong> importance more or less identically?Could it be evidence that the human editors atYahoo and CNN are looking, from time to time,at other popular ong>newsong> services to see how theyrank stories, and adjusting their rankingsaccordingly? Or, as this article posits, could itbe that the ong>newsong> agenda of all the popularonline ong>newsong> services is substantially determinedby the similar choices of two wire services? Allare possibilities, but it is beyond the scope ofthis research to provide definitive answers.Google News has yet to rival the more establishedportals. According to Nielsen/Netratingsdata, in 2004 Google News reached 6.3 millionpeople, far below the ong>newsong> audience of theother major online ong>newsong> services (Hearn 2005),and so it is not included in the quantitativeportion of this study.Google’s approach riled the ong>newsong> agencies. In2005, Agence France-Presse (AFP) announced alawsuit in the United States and France againstGoogle for continuously breaching their copyright.The suit was settled in 2007 when thetwo companies signed a licensing agreement.Several months earlier Google had agreed topay the Associated Press for its content,although the cost to Google of both agreements,and how they differ from ong>newsong> agencyagreements with other online ong>newsong> providers,is not known. Other aggregators, includingYahoo and AOL, pay AFP for the use of content(Jones 2006). Yahoo claims to pay some ong>newsong>services for content, including the major agencies,but to use many others ‘informally’(Washington Internet Daily 2006). One industryong>newsong>letter reports that most aggregatorsdo not pay for content (ibid). The WorldAssociation of Newspapers announced that itwill investigate ‘options regarding copyrightinfringement by search engines and ong>newsong>aggregates’ (Jones 2006). Google News hasbeen found guilty of copyright infringement inBelgium in a suit brought by ong>newsong>papers(Blenkinsop 2007), raising the possibility ofmassive fines and leaving uncertain the longtermviability of the Google News model.Increasing concentrationThe analysis of what ong>newsong> a few online companiesoffer audiences 4 would be less consequentialif hopes for the internet had been fulfilled.If ong>newsong> readers pursued a wide range ofsources, as they can, the focus on a few wouldbe, at least, less urgent. But the online ong>newsong>audience has demonstrated that it will notbehave according to utopian predictions.Instead, it behaves as it always had with oldmedia – it identifies (with the guidance ofpowerful marketing directed its way) a fewfavorite channels of information, and developsa loyalty to these that is extraordinary in viewof the potential for taking in a wider view ofthe world.Industry surveys of online use have demonstratedthat Internet users spent their time withthe websites of ever fewer corporations. By2001 MediaMetrix was reporting that US webusers spend more than 50% of their time onlinePAPERSINTERNATIONAL NEWS ON THE INTERNETCopyright 2007-1/2. Ethical Space: The ong>Internationalong> Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 4, No 1/2 2007 59


Chris Patersonwith websites owned by four companies: AOL,Yahoo, Microsoft, and Napster (CNN 2001;Solomon 2001). An analyst from MediaMetrix,suggested these results, ‘show an irrefutabletrend toward online consolidation and indicatethat the playing field is anything but even’.(CNN 2001). The top ong>newsong> sites correspondalmost precisely to the top media companiesworldwide.Despite the ability of international conglomeratesto dominate online ong>newsong> since the earliestdays of the World Wide Web, there seemed atime that the future of their ong>newsong> operationswas in doubt. As the ‘dot com bubble’ burst inthe 2001, major firms eliminated efforts atoriginal journalism, giving rise to the dominantaggregation model. In 2005 “62% of Internetjournalists said their ong>newsong>rooms have sufferedrecent cutbacks, almost twice the 37% ofnational print, TV and radio journalists toreport that their ong>newsong>rooms have sufferedcutbacks” (State of the News Media, 2005). Thetrend since 2001 has been away from investmentin online ong>newsong>; paradoxically, this hasoccurred as the quantity and scope of onlineong>newsong> providers has increased.In 2001, it was reported that one third of thetime US net users spent online was with AOL-Time Warner websites. When confined tohome, versus business, use, the number rose to75%. 5 A 2003 Nielson/Netratings ranking ofthe top twenty ‘Current Events & Global NewsSites’ (in the US) showed over a quarter (26%)of the audience using Time Warner websites(Netscape, AOL, CNN, Time), and roughly asixth going to both Yahoo (Yahoo! News) andMicrosoft sites (MSNBC, Slate). Other leadingsites were owned by the Washington Post(which would take over Slate in 2004), Disney,the New York Times, and News Corporation. A2006 Pew foundation survey found that 46% ofUS Internet users go to the website of anational TV ong>newsong> company such as CNN orMSNBC, while 39% go to ‘portal websites suchas Yahoo or Google’ (Horrigan 2006). In eachcase the percentages are slightly higher forInternet users with broadband connections(ibid).The following were reported in mid-2006 to bethe leading websites providing internationalong>newsong> in the US (Nielsen 2006), with the numberof monthly unique visitors:CorporationAudienceMicrosoft 114,293,000Yahoo! 106,619,000Time Warner 102,681,000Google 95,340,000News Corp. Online 61,752,000Only one of these services is essentially justong>newsong> – the New York Times (although it too hasbecome heavily entertainment oriented).Companies like Microsoft will know from theirinternal research how much time their monthlyaudience is spending with their journalismservices, but there seems no public data toreveal this. In the UK, the top websites aresimilar (compiled from earlier data and multipleratings services):CorporationAudienceMicrosoft 20,782,000Google 19,095,000Yahoo! 13,384,000BBC 11,541,000Time Warner 8,331,000News Corp. Online 6,422,000Hitwise (2006) reported that in the UK, the BBCis the most popular ong>newsong> site, capturing justunder 40% of online ong>newsong> users (shared,apparently, between ong>newsong>.bbc and bbc.co.uk).It is followed by the Guardian Unlimited,Google UK News, CNN.com, Yahoo News,Times Online, and the Telegraph. The leadingong>newsong> providers are almost identical as well inGermany, with the addition of Bertelsmann asa major ong>newsong> provider, with sites like Stern andRTL Television.The changing ong>newsong> agency roleWhile research on ong>newsong> agencies is limited,researchers have described how increasingconcentration of control over the globalwholesale ong>newsong> system made the global ong>newsong>agencies more influential than they had everbeen, and the leading two are the New Yorkbased Associated Press (AP) and London basedReuters (recently acquired by the Thomsonconglomerate and re-dubbed Thomson-Reuters). 6 That is mostly the result of televisionnetworks of the wealthiest nations curtailingtheir reporting since the 1980s, and relyingmore on agencies as a result; that, in turn, wasmostly the result of the determination of newcorporate owners like Disney and GeneralElectric that ong>newsong> divisions should pay theirown way. 7Because ong>newsong> agencies must please all editors,everywhere, they work harder than their clientong>newsong> organisations to appear objective andunbiased. The result is a bland and homogeneous,but ideologically distinctive, view of the60 Copyright 2007-1/2. Ethical Space: The ong>Internationalong> Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 4, No 1/2 2007 PAPERS


world; stories challenging the ideological positionsof dominant global political players (inagency eyes, the US and UK) receive little attention(Paterson 2005). News agency researchhas demonstrated content dictated by theideological, structural, and cultural nature ofthese organisations (Paterson 1996; Cohen, etal 1996; Hjarvard 1995; Wallis & Baran 1990).But importantly, agencies set the agenda forwhat international stories other media carry,through the choice of stories they distributeand the amount of visuals provided (movingfor TV, still for ong>newsong>papers and magazines, andboth for webcasters), and in the case of agencyprovidedTV pictures, the nature and amountof accompanying audio and textual information.8 Global and regional ong>newsong> agencies havegrown more crucial as they bypass intermediaryprocessors of ong>newsong> in cyberspace enablingthem to directly reach – for the first time – alarge portion of the ong>newsong> audience.At the beginning of the period in question,dependence on AP or Reuters stories providedong>newsong> websites an important association withwell known and trusted, if little understood,ong>newsong> brands. Each was a vaguely known ong>newsong>brand without the negative associations familiarmedia outlets might have had, for the massaudience had little direct experience withagencies which could create such associations.A similar dependence on the two largest agencieswas also driven by the need to have thesame stories rival sites had. Thus, near identicalmenus of world stories would appear on eachmajor site daily, based on agency ong>newsong> selection.While Reuters and the Associated Press areequally ubiquitous in cyberspace, they havepursued different online strategies. Reutersaggressively moved away from its roots it termsof distribution, while the AP has mostlyremained tied to the subscription model it hasrelied on for 150 years. Consistent with itsorigins, the AP, as a means of protecting theprint media which own it, only provides links atits website to its content through the websitesof member ong>newsong>papers. Reuters still dependsupon the subscription model in agreementswith the media organisations to which it feedsvideo, audio, and text; but it has – in the lastfive years – also gone into competition with itssubscribers and become an online ong>newsong> service,marketing directly to the consumer andprovided its branded stories to ong>newsong> aggregators.Measurement of agency useThe quantitative portion of this analysisemploys a simple content comparison to determinethe amount of verbatim ong>newsong> agency useby major ong>newsong> websites within new internationalstories. The rationale is to provide apreviously non-existent measure of which ong>newsong>organisations are providing original ong>newsong>reporting of global events which fall outside ofa select few ‘mega-stories’ (like the Iraq war).A small amount of average verbatim ong>newsong>agency use is an indication that a ong>newsong> websiteis drawing from its own international resourcesand consulting a range of sources to constructoriginal and unique stories, whereas a highdegree indicates little investment or efforttoward original journalism, leading to a subsequentlack of diverse perspectives on internationalevents.At the outset of this project, a pilot study wasconducted with a single story in 1999. For thatanalysis, a single, relatively fast breaking andimportant (in the sense of gaining worldwideattention) story was selected. The story wasthe escalation of violent student rioting inTehran on the morning of July 12, 1999. Overa period of just a few hours, the text of storiespublished on-line by each of the following serviceswere copied and electronically stored:Reuters, Associated Press, Agence FrancePresse, Yahoo, MSNBC, ABC On-line, CNNInteractive, and BBC On-line. 9It proved difficult to precisely quantify ong>newsong>agency use, but it was easy to demonstrate thatmajor online ong>newsong> services produced almost nooriginal journalism in this case, and publishedstories that were almost entirely barely-editedwire service material. For example, analysis ofthe CNN, BBC and MSNBC stories revealed thatless than five paragraphs from these three servicescombined (comprising 38 paragraphs intotal) were not close or exact duplications ofparagraphs written by wire services (that is,original compositions possibly involving reportingfrom other sources). It is important to notethat within the ong>newsong> industry such a finding isneither remarkable nor alarming. It has alwaysbeen the role of the agencies to provide thewords when a ong>newsong> service does not have theirown correspondent on the scene, and thecontracts the agencies provide to clients entitlethem to use agency copy in this way. But thisdependence was surprising in view of thepretensions of these ong>newsong> outlets to be internationalong>newsong> services in their own right. Thisdata suggested a lack of investment in originalonline international reporting which called forPAPERSINTERNATIONAL NEWS ON THE INTERNETCopyright 2007-1/2. Ethical Space: The ong>Internationalong> Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 4, No 1/2 2007 61


Chris Patersoninvestigation.The study was repeated with a sample of fourteeninternational stories in 2001. Theresearcher compared the texts data set using abasic text comparison software called‘Copyfind’, developed to detect plagiarism. 10Comparisons were made between each wireservice story and the online ong>newsong> storypublished (or linked to) by the ong>newsong> services inthe sample. 11 A total word count wasperformed for each sample of ong>newsong> text. In atypical result, for a 642 word CNN story on UNtroops in the Congo, 553 words existed inphrases (strings of five words or more) copiedfrom Reuters, and 29 words existed in phrasescopied from AP. This was, in other words, avirtually unchanged Reuters story published byCNN (although CNN did not identify it as such).Finally, the amount of text each ong>newsong> servicecopied from ong>newsong> agencies were compared tothe total amount of text produced by that serviceto provide the percentage of ong>newsong> agencyuse given below. The study was repeated in2006, with a slightly differing line-up of ong>newsong>organisations. In each case, the researcherincluded major US and UK online media, andboth print and broadcast websites, within thelimits of the most popular ong>newsong> brands identifiedearlier. 12There are many complications in any attemptto track sources of online ong>newsong>. Not least ofthese is the inconvenient fact that both theong>newsong> agency copy and each ong>newsong> service storybased upon it are moving targets – prone toconstant change. Minor updates of existingonline stories are know in the industry as‘write-throughs’, and are a logical extension oflong standing ong>newsong> agency practice. Newsagencies have, since the earliest days of thetelegraph, sent first the bare facts, and thenprogressively added details and correctedinformation that was originally wrong. Theresult is a series of updates after a story is firstreleased, which may continue for hours or daysafter the first version.When updating is practiced by ong>newsong> organisationswhose primary client is the ong>newsong>consumer, not other journalists, the practicebecomes ethically thorny. In ong>newsong>papers andbroadcast, journalists do not get the opportunityto continually improve and modify thework they publish, and readers and viewersreasonably expect the story they see to becomplete and accurate when they see it. Butonline journalists have proven comfortablewith making frequent alterations to their workas new information comes in or old informationis brought into question, or at times, wheneditors decide upon a more appropriate framing.In an innovative computer-assisted contentanalysis, Kutz and Herring (2005) determinedthat ‘that the second most common type ofrevision (after clarification) adds ideology’. Aswith this author’s 1999 research, theseresearchers found that the ong>newsong> services theyobserved routinely rewrote stories to add‘more emotionally manipulative’ words andphrases. 13ResultsThe basic results of the 2001 and 2006 contentsurveys are provided below. 14Average Percentage of Verbatim News Agency Use, byOnline News ServiceAOL YAHOO NANDO LYCOS EXCITE ALTAVISTA Row Total Avg. %2001 88 69 41 87 89 36 682006 94 97 98 50 85MSNBC CNN BBC ABC SKY GUARDIAN NYT2001 53 36 5 55 6 47 342006 81 59 9 91 15 62 32 50In 2001, ong>newsong> portals/aggregators showedsubstantially no mediation of agency content,with their text duplicating ong>newsong> agency textfor an average of 68% of the content studied(the average of the average duplication foreach service). 15 By 2006, the average amountof measurable verbatim ong>newsong> agency use forthese services had risen to 85%. While AFP wasincluded, almost all the ong>newsong> agency use is splitbetween Reuters and Associated Press. Thelimitations of the methodology and smallsample mean these figures are at best indicative,but they strongly suggest an increasingand now near total dependence on two ong>newsong>agencies among the top row of online sources,the aggregators.Although a central purpose of this researchwas to find ong>newsong> agency content where it isnot acknowledged, in some instances theresearcher had to depend on acknowledgementof agency sources by ong>newsong> services themselves.16 In other cases, the main or only storyat some portals was that of the New York Timesor another non-agency source. In such casesthe portal’s editors seem to have taken thedecision that the Time’s coverage was originaland superior to that of the ong>newsong> agencies.Such cases were rare within this sample.The bottom row of data relates ong>newsong> agency62 Copyright 2007-1/2. Ethical Space: The ong>Internationalong> Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 4, No 1/2 2007 PAPERS


dependence indicators for the major originalong>newsong> content providers – the popular ‘oldmedia’ web outlets. The figure has risen from34% dependence to 50% in five years. It isnoteworthy that the major US sites, CNN,MSNBC, and ABC, seem to be doing substantiallyless original international journalism thanthey once were. The New York Times seems tobe doing more. BBC Online continues toexhibit little verbatim use of ong>newsong> agencies,and stories generally appear to draw from awider range if sources than the American services.Judging from the few Sky stories in thesample, Sky appears to draw just from ong>newsong>agencies, but their text has been extensivelyreworded in Sky’s concise tabloid-like style.It is thus possible to reach the general conclusionthat international ong>newsong> flow on theInternet has increased in apparent diversity oforiginal reporting but decreased or remainedstatic in actual diversity of original reporting.This longitudinal comparative analysis of internationalstories from major ong>newsong> web siteswith original wire service stories reveals acontinuing scarcity of original journalism (oreven copy-editing) and a nearly total dependenceby major online ong>newsong> providers on ong>newsong>agency reporting and writing. There seems ashift in these five years toward less minorrewriting of wire stories, with the broadcasterbasedservices opting more often now to simplypublish wire stories in their entirety and clearlyput the wire services label on the stories. 17 Ineffect, they seem less concerned with theimage of providing original ong>newsong> coverage andmore concerned with providing a massivequantity of coverage.ConclusionsWe are left with a picture of an online ong>newsong>world (in the English language) where onlyfour organisations do extensive internationalreporting (Reuters, AP, AFP, BBC) a few othersdo some international reporting (CNN, MSN,New York Times, Guardian and a few otherlarge ong>newsong>papers and broadcasters), and mostdo no original international reporting. Itmakes the ong>newsong> aggregation industry appearsomewhat inane – why not just link to the fourcompanies filing original reports from aroundthe world and ignore the rest? That is not anacceptable solution, of course, either in termsof the marketing priorities of the aggregators,nor for the global public sphere.This research indicates that discourse on internationalevents of consequence within theglobal public sphere is substantially determinedby the production practices and institutionalpriorities of two information services –Reuters and the Associated Press. 18 The politicaleconomy of online ong>newsong> is not one of diversitybut one of concentration, and the democraticpotential of the medium remains that –potential.It makes economic sense that the two leadingong>newsong> agencies should dominate internationalong>newsong> delivery in cyberspace, for as in any openand unregulated market, the strongest producerswith the lowest unit costs thrive. Such is thecase for the major wire services, which eachhave a century and a half of experience indeveloping production processes which generatemassive amounts of ong>newsong>. Digital technologieshave made ong>newsong> agency production moreefficient, and their (technological) convergencehas permitted easy access into new marketsthrough the creation of products tailored tonew media, built from the same agency wordsand pictures upon which traditional mediahave long depended.In the context of international ong>newsong>, theInternet has transitioned into what we havetraditionally regarded as ‘old media’: it is now,for most users, a mass medium providingmostly illusory interactivity and mostly illusorydiversity. It is becoming a substantially tailoredmass media product through the personalizationof information delivery, but thesephenomena make it no less a form of massmedia than would the insertion of targetingadvertising into a magazine delivered to someone’shome. Because resources are beingdevoted to endless distribution and redistribution,internet journalism will continue to growthinner. Given the massive explosion of distribution,there is surprisingly little new originaljournalism within the mainstream (mass audience)worldwide web. Whether or not theblogging phenomena offers a solution mightbe a point of contention, but research on bloggingto date indicates that for remote internationalstories, bloggers are as dependent onthe sources described here as everyone else.The evolution of online ong>newsong> has laid bare theonline industries’ dependence on a few wholesaleproviders. Such concerns were destined toremain substantially academic until the ong>newsong>industry itself revealed its previously hiddenwholesale-retail structure online for the massaudience. While the online ong>newsong> industrycontinues to pretend for the moment that itbrings readers a diversity of reporting on worldong>newsong>, it is a pretence which cannot last. AndPAPERSINTERNATIONAL NEWS ON THE INTERNETCopyright 2007-1/2. Ethical Space: The ong>Internationalong> Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 4, No 1/2 2007 63


Chris Patersonthe ethical implications of maintaining thatpretence are worthy of greater analysis.It is likely that in the near term the online ong>newsong>industry will try harder to disguise its dependenceon limited sources through cosmeticchange, the addition of minor editorial adjustmentsto agency stories (by machine andhuman), and the addition of further bells andwhistles at ong>newsong> sites. They seek to distractusers from the problem. In the longer term theindustry must invest in original reporting as analternative to the few genuinely internationalong>newsong> organisations now on offer, and givemore prominence to buying, and properlytranslating, original non-English languagereporting from around the world. Withoutsuch change, new media will continue to presentto most users the dangerous illusion ofmultiple perspectives which actually emanatefrom few sources.Notes1 For a review of early critiques of the utopian perspective, seeAufderheide (1998).2 This was based on a telephone survey of 3000 US adults.3 White reports on data gathered by www.ong>newsong>knife.com.4 Use of the term ‘audience’ in the context of a nominally interactivemedium is usually discouraged, but in the new mediasector of international ong>newsong>, a broadcast model applies, bothfor producers and audiences, so ong>newsong> readers are audiences ina traditional sense. News is broadcast from the few to themany, and there no interactivity of consequence.5 Walker 2001. There are several internet rating companies:Jupiter Media Metrix (referred to by its original name ofMediaMetrix in this paper), Nielsen/NetRatings, and the UKservice Hitwise. But their data is normally available throughsubscription, although limited portions are publicly available.For the purposes of this budget constrained study, data fromthese companies has been acquired through publishedsecondary sources.6 See Paterson 1998, 1996; Boyd-Barrett 1998. Analysis of ong>newsong>agencies remains sparse, and the wire service productionprocess poorly understood. To date, there is only limitedlarge-scale ethnographic research on ong>newsong> agencies, althoughits focus is only the television side of these institutions(Paterson 1996). There have been smaller ethnographic projectsand important works on agencies employing othermethodologies (Hjarvard 1995b; Read 1992; Boyd-Barrett andThussu 1992; Fenby 1986; Boyd-Barrett 1980).7 Disney’s lack of interest in ong>newsong> also helped to consolidate theagency sector, when they sold Worldwide Television News –the video agency with the longest history – to its new rival,Associated Press Television, in 1997, leaving just AP andReuters in the business of large scale multimedia internationalong>newsong> delivery.8 In television, broadcasters write their stories around the videothese organizations offer, and if they are not offeredcompelling images, they will minimize or ignore an internationalstory. Studies of television ong>newsong>rooms have shown thatthe availability of visual images is an important factor indetermining whether a foreign ong>newsong> story is carried (Cohen etal. 1996; Helland 1995; Rodriguez 1996; Molina 1990;Schlesinger 1987).9 Other sources, which might typically be used by journalists onsuch a story, were also retrieved and stored, including USState Department statements, the relevant output of the IranNews Agency, and the statements of a London-based Iraniandissident group. Although not a goal of the present study, itwas evident that on stories such as this almost every originalsource consulted by the writer can be identified – stories canbe fully deconstructed.10 plagiarism.phys.virginia.edu. Many such programs are nowavailable, and recent editions of Microsoft Word contain textcomparison features. The software indicates strings of text inone document that are copied from another. The user can setthe parameters of what constitutes ‘copying’. In this case,‘copying’ was the duplication of a string of five or morewords. After trial runs, this appeared the best compromise toavoid the counting of names or common expressions (i.e.‘appeared to be’), but to catch short sentences, or significantportions of sentences, copied from wire services withoutalteration. The system is imperfect. Among the problemsencountered were when lengthy names were used togetherin similar ways from story to story (i.e. ‘Judge Juan Guzmancharged General Pinochet’), adding, erroneously, to the totalof copied words.11 In each year of the study, the sample was determined over thecourse of 1-2 weeks by monitoring international ong>newsong> duringperiods when research assistants were available to gatherstories, and identifying stories which:- were not about, and did not take place in, the US or UK,where the media being analysed are based- normally would have no strong relevance to either the US orthe UK- were selected by the major ong>newsong> agencies and at least threemajor ong>newsong> outlets as being worthy of prominent displayduring the periods analysed- were about events occurring outside of major ong>newsong>hotspots; especially the Middle East.- were new and breaking stories of international significance.When qualifying stories were identified as many versions ascould be gathered of Reuters, AP and AFP output related tothe story were obtained – through various means – and eachong>newsong> service in the study was monitored. If they posted astory on the topic, it was electronically saved for analysis.Although some exceptions were necessary, we attempted togather data for each story topic within the same period ofabout four hours (so iterations of a story published over manydays are not part of this study).12 While both the New York Times and Washington Post haveemerged as leading online ong>newsong> outlets in international rankings,the New York Times usually ranks ahead, and so was theonly one of these included in this quantitative study. Figureson the Times’ international readership are not available, butone industry report claims that 72% of the Times’ US onlinereadership comes from outside of the New York area(Hitwise.com, June 1, 2005). While the portal Excite.com,owned by Ask.com parent IAC Media, had declined in popularityduring the period of this study, it also remains importantand was included in the quantitative portion of thisresearch. Excite hyperlinks from its home page to lists of ong>newsong>from each of the following services – but frequently thestories of most, or all, will be the same wire copy as the firsttwo lists, from the agencies themselves: AP, Reuters, NewYork Times, CBS, MSNBC, USA TODAY, FOX News.13 Kutz & Herring, 2005 found that 51% of changes to stories inthe three major ong>newsong> websites they observed added no newinformation, consisting just of ‘formatting, spelling, grammarcorrections; Stylistic polish; Rhetorical/ideological rewording’.14 The original 2001 survey consisted of 14 stories (distinct ong>newsong>story topics), but for the sake of this reanalysis and comparisonto ten 2006 stories, the researcher cut those to the tenstories receiving the most coverage. This provides slightlydifferent results from the original 2001 study.15 It is unclear if the remaining 32% accounts for actual changesmade by web portal editorial staff to agency stories, variationsin identifying text or unrelated portions of the webpage (which were not edited out when the original texts weregathered), or slight changes in the versions of the wire servicestory compared. It is likely a combination of those factors.16 Although we sought to gather data on breaking stories64 Copyright 2007-1/2. Ethical Space: The ong>Internationalong> Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 4, No 1/2 2007 PAPERS


within a short period to minimise the possibility of multipleversions of a ong>newsong> agency story confusing the results, thishappened in some instances. In cases where a ong>newsong> portal’sstory was clearly that of a ong>newsong> agency – because it waslabelled as such and because the portal in question is knownnot to make editorial alterations, as with Excite or Altavista.But our analysis did not match the story fully with that of aong>newsong> agency – it is assumed that the portal story is a later orearlier version of the ong>newsong> agency story which we did collect.100% ong>newsong> agency use was therefore recorded, despite ourless than 100% match.17 Where a small portion of verbatim ong>newsong> agency materialappears in the story of a ong>newsong> service which generally doesoriginal reporting, as with the New York Times, it is normallythe result of that service using an extended quote from thewire service’s story. Increasingly, writers tend to acknowledgethe ong>newsong> agency by name when using such quotes. It is notclear whether this has been instituted as a new requirementof ong>newsong> agency contracts with clients, or whether ong>newsong> servicesare simply becoming more cautious about attributionamid declining public trust in ong>newsong> and a string of high profilereporting scandals, especially at the New York Times.18 It is beyond the means of this paper to address the next logicalquestion: who sets the agenda of the ong>newsong> agencies? Thisis a vital question, nonetheless, and has been addressed insome detail in this author’s earlier work and other studies ofinternational ong>newsong> cited previously.ReferencesAllan, S. and Zelizer, B. (2002) Journalism after September 11,London, RoutledgeAufderheide, P. (1998) Niche-market culture, off- and online, in D.Borden and K. 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Available online athttp://www.ojr.org/ojr/business/1017968544.php, accessed april2006White, C. (2003) Google ong>newsong> performing well, journalism.co.uk, 8January. Available online at http://www.journalism.co.uk/ong>newsong>/story538.html, accessed April 2006Wilbert, C. (2004) Also-ran Fox retools Web site, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 26. Available on Lexis-NexisNote on contributorChris Paterson is a senior lecturer and Director of the ong>Internationalong>Communication MA at the Institute of Communications Studies,University of Leeds, UK. He has published extensively on ong>newsong>agencies and the production and flow of ong>newsong>. He has edited, withA. Sreberny, ong>Internationalong> News in the 21st Century (J. Libbey,2004). Since receiving his PhD from the University of Texas,Paterson has taught at the Centre for Mass CommunicationResearch at the University of Leicester, and at the Universities ofGeorgia and San Francisco in the US and Ulster and Leeds in theUK. Email c.paterson@leeds.ac.ukAcknowledgementThis article is adapted from a research paper prepared for theCentre for ong>Internationalong> Communications Research at theUniversity of Leeds.66 Copyright 2007-1/2. Ethical Space: The ong>Internationalong> Journal of Communication Ethics. All rights reserved. Vol 4, No 1/2 2007 PAPERS

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