Newspapers are known as the media that offer the most in-depth coverage of news. One way of measuring this is to examine the range of views offered. As the US study states, these are essential elements in trying to assess the quality of reporting.
To break this down, we looked at sourcing in several ways. A source was identified as a person or a statement or “an anonymous source’. First we measured how many sources a story contained. Then we measured the types of sources according to particular categories, to ascertain the number of viewpoints and stakeholders or interest groups a story contained.
Taking these components of sourcing one at a time, at first glance the most alarming finding was that more than 40per cent of all stories cited only one source with only 9.14 per cent of all stories citing four sources and 5.25 per cent citing more than five sources.
The strong correlation of the sources data with the length of articles data showed that very short stories rarely quoted more than one source. Notwithstanding that correlation, more than one source is relatively rarely quoted even in longer articles. It may have implications for assessments of fairness and balance.
The comparison to the US is startling:
The source data was in marked contrast to the US study which found that nearly half of all newspaper stories (48 per cent) identified four or more sources and, including opinion stories, this figure rose to 51 per cent. 39.4 per cent of all page one stories contained only one source. Regional newspapers contained the highest number of stories with only one source (47.1 per cent).
The predominant source in Australian stories was government (a politician or person employed by a government department) which accounted for 23.9 per cent of all sources.
The Howard government’s recently passed media “reforms” are about to make Australian journalism even more obsequious.