The Credibility of Sources 2.0 in Journalism: Case Study in Portugal

The Credibility of Sources 2.0 in Journalism: Case Study in Portugal

Paulo Serra (Universidade da Beira Interior, Portugal) and João Canavilhas (Universidade da Beira Interior, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2663-8.ch010
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This chapter addresses the use and credibility of news sources 2.0 in journalism. Starting with traditionally established views about the credibility of news sources in pre-Internet journalism as depicted by Gans (2004) and other authors, this chapter discusses the new situation that the Internet and, in particular, Web 2.0, brought about. More specifically, the authors intend to: i) Characterize the way Portuguese journalists use sources 2.0; ii) Study how Portuguese journalists assess the credibility of sources 2.0; iii) Compare the results obtained among Portuguese journalists with the results of other international studies in this field. To do this, the authors analyze and discuss the main results of a survey administered to Portuguese journalists, which is also compared with results from other international studies, in order to discuss its external validity. According to the data, Portuguese journalists, like journalists in other countries, consider news sources 2.0 to be unreliable, but the Portuguese journalists surveyed still use them, so the authors examine that discrepancy and other findings in light of other research.
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This chapter investigates the credibility of news sources 2.0 in journalism. According to the definition proposed by Canavilhas and Ivars-Nicolás (2012, p. 66), news sources 2.0 are all the “information providers who do it for free and from the author´s spontaneous will, being either an individual or a group, using collaborative tools,” and whose information journalists use to produce their news stories. Those tools are blogs, social networks, forums, chats, wikis and video/photo/sound sharing websites such as YouTube, Flickr or SoundCloud. We do not include web search engines in this group because they are not a direct source of information but an intermediary to get the original news sources.

The 2.0 sources are commonly known as “social media,” which may be defined as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 , and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content” (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010, p. 61). This definition prioritizes the technological factor; however, as stressed by the Reuters Handbook of Journalism, social media “are not sources per se” (Reuters, 2008, p. 541). The sources are the people and/or organizations that produce or transmit the content we can find in social media: texts, photos, videos, etc.

The importance and value of Web 2.0 sources for journalists and news organizations has been emphasized by several authors, on several occasions. To give a single example, Johnson and Kaye (2009) drew attention to the importance taken on during the Iraq War by “obscure war bloggers such as Salam Pax, an Iraqi living in Iraq, and military bloggers such as Lt. Smash, a reservist stationed in the Persian Gulf, as well as stateside armchair political pundits such as Sean Paul Kelley (” (p.1).

With regard to credibility, and applying concepts from Aristotle’s Rhetoric to mass communication, Hovland and Weiss (1951) and Hovland, Janis, & Kelley (1953) empirically identified expertise and trustworthiness as the main dimensions of the credibility of communicators or sources. Later on, several authors working on persuasion also emphasized expertise and trustworthiness (or trust, or believability) as crucial dimensions of credibility (Fogg, 2003, pp. 121-181; Gass & Seiter, 2003, pp. 74-95; Mills, 2000, 14-37; O’Keefe, 2002, who adds source attractiveness and dynamism; Perloff, 2003: 159-168, who adds goodwill; Larson, 2004, pp. 230-3, 296-7, who adds dynamism). The differences among respective analyses notwithstanding, researchers also generally agree that credibility is a multidimensional variable (it has more than one dimension or component), and a perceptual one (it depends on the receiver’s or audience’s perception about the communicator or source) (Stiff & Mongeau, 2003, pp. 104-5). Some authors identify, as key dimensions or components of credibility, characteristics such as believability, accuracy, trustworthiness, bias, and completeness (Flanagin & Metzger, 2000, p. 522).

The credibility of journalists and news organizations depends, above all, on the credibility of their sources. What is a credible source? How do we evaluate the credibility of a source? These are questions that journalism professionals, their organizations, and their associations have been asking at least since the beginnings of the twentieth century—ASNE's Statement of Principles was adopted early in 1922, under the name “Canons of Journalism.” A significant part of journalism and mass communication theory, which includes authors like Lippmann (1922), Tuchman (1972), Wolf (1985), McQuail (1992) or Gans (2004), has been trying to answer those questions.

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