Competitors’ news coverage as a source within economic and symbolic power relations
First Monday

Competitors' news coverage as a source within economic and symbolic power relations by Jeongsub Lim



Abstract
News media are positioned within economic and symbolic power relations where a dominant news outlet and a secondary news outlet compete for audience’s attention. In this sense, competitors’ news coverage can be a legitimate source for providing additional news items to journalists, and this study expands this argument to online journalists. An e–mail survey of online journalists reveals that online journalists utilize their competitors’ news coverage as a source for news updates. Online journalists frequently cite competitors’ stories in their stories, and the journalists focus on the context and theme of the competitors’ stories in updating their stories. This strategic response to competitors is not related to online journalists’ personal characteristics, but online journalists working for large news Web sites use their competitors’ news coverage more frequently than ignore it.

Contents

Introduction
Strategic responses to competitors’ coverage
Incorporating competitors’ coverage into online updates
Methods
Measures
Results
Discussion and conclusion

 


 

Introduction

The construction of news involves news judgment. However, this judgment is made not by a single journalist, but by an implicit agreement among a group of journalists (Sigal, 1973). The fundamental reason for seeking such an agreement is that the production of news cannot escape its inherent uncertainty in selecting and presenting news (Breed, 1955). Facing competition and deadline pressure, a journalist may misjudge the value of a news story. For instance, a reporter covering a press conference may choose a lead for a story that is inferior to that of other reporters. This can lead to a low–quality story and dissatisfied readers, which may jeopardize the reporter’s reputation because that lead was rejected and ignored by competitors. In this regard, the news value of a story is not a given entity but an outcome with which competing journalists agree by intensively considering the timeliness, impact, or other news factors of the story (Kepplinger and Ehmig, 2006).

For this reason, competitors’ news coverage could serve as a source for journalists who want to evaluate their own news judgments. The implications of competitors’ news coverage as a source would be even greater in the online news environment in that people rely on online news for information. The percentages of using online newspaper in South Korea in July 2010 are 83.1 percent, greater than newspaper subscriptions (58.1 percent) (Korea Internet and Security Agency, 2010). The similar trend exists in the U.S. online news market. In December 2010, the percentages of the U.S. online news usage are 46 percent, exceeding the U.S. newspaper subscriptions (40 percent) (Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2011). Online journalists need to provide fresh content at a fast pace to meet these levels of online news usage. Competitors’ stories can be a legitimate source for this purpose.

Online journalists evaluate no less than once a week other news Web sites to find any missing news (Weaver, et al., 2003). This study defines online journalists as online editors and reporters whose main task is to produce or edit stories, photographs, and other multimedia content for news. Online editors and staff writers who work only for online news outlets represent a typical example of online journalists. From the broad perspective, the category of online journalists includes online newspaper journalists, online television journalists, online wire service journalists, and journalists working for Web–only media.

The implications of competitors’ news coverage as a source contribute to understanding online news. For instance, if people recognize that online journalists use their competitors’ content for developing news items and updating stories, readers could evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the stories. This cognitive effort could also allow people to critically interpret realities constructed in online news. To contribute to this effort, this study investigates what strategic decision online journalists make in response to competitors’ news coverage and which elements in the coverage the journalists highlight.

 

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Strategic responses to competitors’ coverage

News outlets are positioned in a competitive sphere, which is called “a field.” Bourdieu (1996) defined a field as a structured social space that “contains people who dominate and others who are dominated. Constant, permanent relationships of inequality operate inside this space” [1]. This field creates economic and symbolic power relations for the operation of news outlets (Bourdieu, 1996). That is, one news outlet takes a dominant position and other news outlets occupy a secondary position in the field. Economic power relations are indicated by the news outlet’s market share, while symbolic power relations are noticeable when we compare different categories of news media such as the national media versus the global media (Bourdieu, 1996). The U.S. television news can exert its symbolic influence on journalists in other countries, because the television serves as a reliable source.

In the economic and symbolic power relations, journalists estimate their competitors for story ideas. Traditional journalists rely on competitors for their daily news reporting (Reinemann, 2004; Velthuis, 2006). Therefore, it is logical that journalists monitor competitors’ works to know what stories other journalists write. This knowledge reduces the possibility of being scooped by their competitors (Ehrlich, 1995). Indeed, news organizations constantly evaluate what other competitors do (Schudson, 2003; Tuchman, 1978). For instance, in an ethnographic account of coverage of a trade summit of the World Trade Organization, Velthuis (2006) describes news gathering practices of journalists: “We eagerly check electronic media sources to see what our competitors wrote, how much space they were granted by their editors, and how prominently their articles were published” [2]. In a mail survey, traditional journalists spend one–and–a–half hours reading daily newspapers and one hour and fifteen minutes watching television news to evaluate competitors’ coverage (Reinemann, 2004). Traditional journalists are those from newspapers, television stations, radio stations, and weekly magazines. Interestingly, 47 percent of these journalists spend 30 minutes or more evaluating news Web sites.

Monitoring competitors as a source is also salient among online journalists. Online journalists evaluate at least once a week other news Web sites to assess any missing news (Weaver, et al., 2003). Online editors and reporters spend a significant portion of the time monitoring other online news media (Boczkowski, 2009). One news Web site’s editor said that “at least for the editors, there is an obligation to keep ... monitoring; lately, much more than before” [3].

Once online journalists consider competitors’ story to be a source and monitor them, an interesting question then arises: “How do online journalists specifically respond to a story posted by competitors?” Journalists apply selective perceptions and attentions to news items released by other news media (Donsbach, 2004). Prior research (Gans, 1979; Lim, 2011) suggests that off–line journalists (e.g., newspaper journalists or television journalists) demonstrate specific and strategic responses to competitors’ story. On the basis of selective approaches to competitors, journalists either drop or play down a story that has been covered by their rivals, because they do not want their editors to judge them as imitating or falling behind the competitors (Gans, 1979). These patterns of dropping and playing down are further found in scoops by a national newspaper. With regard to national breaking stories in the New York Times, USA Today and the Washington Post ignore most of the stories, and, to some extent, follow the stories (Lim, 2011). Similar responses are applied to local breaking stories.

It would be interesting to see how online journalists demonstrate functional responses (e.g., ignore and use) to their competitors’ news coverage. While monitoring competitors, online editors decide to ignore competitors’ coverage when they believe it to be nothing new or carry no noticeable news value. In some cases, the same editors could decide to use the coverage because it has considerable news value. Ignoring the coverage is to simply dismiss it, whereas using it is to partially or fully use the competitor’s content in a story. These two responses are expected, but this study predicts that using competitors’ coverage will be positively related with the frequency of monitoring competitors’ news coverage. The coverage can be a good news item that attracts users’ attention. In particular, when journalists are unable to break their own scoops, they check competitors’ stories and produce similar stories (Filoreto and Setzer, 1993). Thus, this study proposes the following hypothesis:

H1: The more frequently online journalists monitor competitors’ news coverage, the more likely they use their competitors’ coverage in some ways.

The decision as to whether online journalists ignore or use competitors’ news coverage is based on their news judgments. This means that such news selection decisions are not likely to be related to online journalists’ demographic characteristics (e.g., their age, education, tenure, and political standing) or the geographic location of the Web site. In prior research (Reinemann, 2004), journalists’ individual characteristics (age, job title, specific job activities, the location they work) do not influence the selection of stories. Similarly, another study (Shoemaker, et al., 2001) found that the amount of coverage of U.S. Congressional bills by newspapers is significantly correlated with editors’ news judgments on those bills but is not correlated with the characteristics of staff writers (e.g., their political standing, gender, tenure, and education). Thus, the following hypothesis is advanced:

H2: The decision to ignore or use competitors’ news coverage is not related to online journalists’ demographic characteristics or to the geographic location of Web sites.

 

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Incorporating competitors’ coverage into online updates

Competition for attracting audiences is endemic to journalists (Gans, 1979), and it creates a journalistic culture dominating news work of online journalists. This argument is based on previous studies of journalists’ daily works (Ehrlich, 1995; Zelizer, 1993). Journalists are socialized to compete with their opponents to break news. In other words, the need to compete is socially and culturally institutionalized within and among news organizations (Ehrlich, 1995). Therefore, the competition aims profit–making and, more important, it reflects “the thrill–of–victory, agony–of–defeat competitive culture of the newsroom” [4]. The online news cycle is much faster than that of the newspaper and television news, and the level of competition for breaking news is much greater than that of the traditional news. Online journalists try to break a story first and background and context are updated later (Stein, 2008). The high speed of online news affects the way in which online journalists provide continuous news items in different drafts (Karlsson, 2011). In this sense, the fast news cycle and intense competition could influence how online journalists use their competitors’ coverage.

This competitive culture bases itself on an interpretive community sharing news discourse and interpretations among journalists (Zelizer, 1993). This sharing among competing journalists is to share reality with other journalists to confirm their news decisions and thus eliminate any uncertainty in news selection (Donsbach, 2004; Reinemann, 2004). Sharing may be “mutual expectations; as a result, story selectors may choose stories because they expect the rival to do so” [5].

This sharing includes another intriguing functional purpose: providing additional information for online updates. This is important for news users and online journalists. News users consider frequent updates to be the main reason for visiting news Web sites (Nguyen, 2010). Online journalists consider their most important job to provide information to people (Quandt, et al., 2006), and the Web is the most–used resource for online journalists to find online information (Ruggiero, 2004). This perception of online news works reflects news routines, which influence how journalists produce news items (Ryfe, 2006). The perception also reflects the usage habits of news users. Readers remain on a news Web site only for a short period, an average of 3.6 minutes (Newspaper Association of America, 2011). Thus online journalists not only track daily visits but also monitor most frequently visited sections, such as sports and community news (Brill, 2001). The pursuit for online audiences contributes to the revenue of online media, though the share remains small at the moment (Fahmy, 2008).

Therefore, competitors’ coverage can provide information for updates, and online journalists can incorporate this information into their stories. As shown in a prior study (Boczkowski, 2009), imitating competitors’ coverage is prevalent in online newsrooms as a result of monitoring activities. Hence online journalists are faced with the question of which elements of the coverage to use for updates. Online content includes stories, photographs, audio clips, and video clips, but this study limits the type of content to news stories because the story is the main news item and it consists of specific structural elements. News discourse studies provide a useful framework for examining this question. van Dijk (1988) hypothesized that a news story consists of microstructures such as scripts and syntax and macrostructures such as topics, themes, and schemata of text. Pan and Kosicki (1993) proposed a similar structural framework in which news text contains a syntactical structure composed of a lead paragraph and a quotation; a script structure (e.g., the sequence of events); a thematic structure (e.g., causal or logical propositions); and, a rhetorical structure (e.g., metaphors or catchphrases). Findahl and Höijer (1985) concurred with the presence of script and thematic structures by suggesting that a news story involves causes of events and certain consequences. Bell (1998) noted that a news story is based on attribution such as a source or a time, abstract such as a headline and a lead paragraph, and a story such as an episode and an event.

On the basis of these previous studies, this study focuses on six structural elements of a news story: its headline, lead, source, theme, development, and context. These elements were validly used in prior research (Lim, 2011). In addition, online journalists can use competitors’ coverage by giving the competitors credit for the coverage. Online journalists are likely to pay attention to the structural elements of the coverage. Thus, the following question is proposed:

R1: When deciding to use a competitor’s story for updates, which elements of the story (i.e., the story’s headline, lead, source, theme, development, and context) do online journalists highlight and do they give the competitor credit for the story?

 

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Methods

This study conducted an e–mail survey of online journalists to test the hypotheses and answer the research question. Specifically, the e–mail survey was selected because it allowed for the involvement of online editors and reporters who were familiar with the Internet and e–mail (Singer, 2006). Following previous research (Arant and Anderson, 2001; Cassidy, 2005; 2006) using a directory of “Newspaper Web sites” as the sampling frame, this study used a press information package provided by the Korea Press Foundation (2009), called the “List of Korean Journalists.”

The package contained the names of Korean journalists who were members of the foundation and their contact information. The target sample included only those online journalists who worked specifically in the online newsroom. To obtain accurate information on online journalists, this study took two steps. First, a research assistant collected names and e–mail addresses of online journalists from the “List of Korean Journalists.” Second, the research assistant and the author visited news Web sites and double–checked whether the information on online journalists provided by the list was consistent with that on their Web sites. Job titles of online journalists included the online editor, the online writer, and the online copy editor. Previous research has taken a similar approach (Singer, 2006). The categories of news Web sites where online journalists worked included national newspaper sites, local newspaper sites, national television sites, wire service sites, and Web–only news media. Through these procedures, 252 online journalists were identified.

To improve the reliability and validity of the survey instrument, this study developed a draft of the instrument and tested it with 16 journalists who did not participate in the online survey. The group was excluded from the e–mail survey. The e–mail survey was conducted between early July 2010 and the end of August 2010.

The survey procedures followed prior guidelines (Arant and Anderson, 2001; Cassidy, 2005; Singer, 2006). First, one week before the survey, an e–mail announcement about the survey was sent to the 252 online journalists. Second, an e–mail message was sent to each online journalist. This message contained a cover letter describing the purpose of this study, an informed consent form, and a link to the survey questionnaire. The participants were asked to type their name and e–mail address on the consent form online. Third, because e–mail surveys can be ignored as spam by various e–mail filters (Sue and Ritter, 2007), this study maintained a short waiting period before sending a follow–up notice. Three days after sending the survey, this study circulated a second round of e–mail messages encouraging the journalists to complete the survey. Fourth, four days after the second round of e–mail messages, a third round of e–mail messages was sent to those who had not responded. To improve the response rates, the researchers called those journalists who did not complete the online survey to request their participation. In some cases, researchers visited the news organizations where the online journalists worked to ask them to complete the survey. This special contact, recommended by previous research (Dillman, 2000; Mersey, 2009), contributed to a substantial increase in the response rate. Of the 252 online journalists, 110 journalists responded to the e–mail survey. This study calculated the response rate by using a formula labeled “RR2” (American Association for Public Opinion Research, 2008), which considered a complete interview, a partial interview, a refusal, and non–contact. The response rate was 43.7 percent. This value fell into the range (24–76 percent) of response rate of surveys conducted with professionals (Reinardy, 2006; Sue and Ritter, 2007).

 

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Measures

Number of online journalists: The survey collected information on the number of full–time and part–time online journalists working in the online newsroom by asking the journalists.

Daily update frequency: This was measured by the question (Q1) “On a scale of 0 (never) to 7 (more than six), how many times a day do you update the content on your news Web site?”

Monitoring frequency: This was measured by the question (Q9), “On a scale of 0 (never) to 7 (more than six), how many times a day do you visit other news Web sites and check the content?”

Ignore: This strategic decision rejected a news story by a competitor because it contained no news value for follow–up coverage.

Use: This decision accepted news value of a competitor’s story and published a story similar to that of the competitor in terms of the following story elements. The survey questions contained the elements. A headline meant a story’s title, and a lead referred to the first paragraph of the story (Ytreberg, 2001). A source was a specific entity containing a direct or indirect quotation for verifying the story’s main arguments, and a theme indicated the main propositions in the story, such as logical arguments. The development of the story referred to events or consequences that were placed in temporal or causal sequences resulting from the theme. The context of a story contained background information on the story’s topic. Contextual information could help readers to interpret the story’s meaning. Online journalists could give their competitors credit for a story when they used the coverage.

Basic demographic information was collected such as gender, age, education, college major, years of experience as a journalist, income, and political standing. Their political standing was measured by determining whether they were conservative, liberal, or independent. Data on the geographic location of each news Web site’s parent company were obtained from the Korea Ministry of Public Administration and Security (2007). The original data classified various regions into four categories: Seoul, the capital of South Korea (more than 10 million residents), metropolitan areas (more than 800,000), cities, and towns. This study combined cities and towns into small areas because they included fewer people than Seoul and metropolitan areas.

The first hypothesis was tested by Pearson’s correlation, and the second hypothesis was tested by discriminant analysis. The research question was examined by descriptive statistics such as frequencies and percentages.

 

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Results

More male online journalists (67.9 percent) took the e–mail survey than did their female counterparts (32.1 percent), and 72.7 percent of the survey participants were less than 40 years old with a four–year college degree (80.6 percent). The online journalists majored in more non–journalism subjects (74.1 percent) than journalism (25.9 percent), and 69.8 percent of the journalists have worked for less than six years. This indicates that the majority of the survey participants were young and less experienced in producing online news.

The average number of online journalists was 15.41 (SD = 19.26), with missing values accounting for 32.7 percent of all respondents (110). On a scale of 0 (never) to 7 (more than six), the median daily update frequency was 5 (SD = 2.01), with missing values accounting for 21.8 percent. The median monitoring frequency was 7 (SD = 1.69), with missing values accounting for 9.1 percent. Given the high level of the median update frequency (5) and the median monitoring frequency (7), news Web sites updated their content and monitored competitors’ content frequently.

As background information, this study asked the question why online journalists monitored their competitors’ coverage. Among 110 online journalists, 86 answered the question. As reasons for monitoring, 53.5 percent of the journalists checked the competitor’s coverage to search for new, missing news. Another reason was to compare own work with competitors’ (41.9 percent). This comparison focused on editing direction, layout, and similarity of news content. Minor reasons included checking top, popular news (3.5 percent) and evaluating own work (1.2 percent). This indicates that online journalists in the e–mail survey monitored their opponent sites to confirm whether they missed any important news and to compare their news work against their competitors.

The first hypothesis predicted that the more frequently online journalists monitored competitors’ news coverage, the more likely they used their competitors’ coverage in some ways. Because one response was not relevant to the question, it was deleted. Of the 109 respondents, 76 journalists (69.7 percent) said that they used competitors’ coverage; 23 (21.1 percent) answered that they ignored the coverage, and 10 (9.2 percent) did not answer. This result was compared with that for monitoring frequency. The relevant questions included Question 9 for monitoring frequency (“If so, on a scale of 0 (never) to 7 (more than six), how many times a day do you visit competitors’ Web site?”). Missing values in the variables of monitoring and usage patterns reduced the total number of respondents to 90.

 

Table 1: Online journalists’ decisions in response to their competitors’ coverage.
Note: Pearson’s correlation coefficients for the relationship between monitoring frequency and usage are -0.543 (p = 0.266).
Monitoring frequencyDecision typeTotal % (N)
 Ignore
% (N)
Use
% (N)
 
10 (0)100 (1)100 (1)
223.1 (3)76.9 (10)100 (13)
330.8 (4)69.2 (9)100 (13)
425 (2)75 (6)100 (8)
533.3 (1)66.7 (2)100 (3)
more than 619.2 (10)80.8 (42)100 (52)
Total22.2 (20)77.8 (70)100 (90)

 

In Table 1, the correlation between monitoring frequency and the percentages of using competitors’ coverage was not significant (r = -0.543, p = 0.266). The monitoring frequency was not correlated to the percentages of ignoring the coverage, either (r = 0.543, p = 0.266). However, the percentages of ignoring coverage were negatively correlated to those of using the coverage (r = -1.0, p < 0.0001). This rejects the first hypothesis, and the online journalists used their competitors’ coverage more frequently than they ignored them.

The second hypothesis expected that the decision to ignore or use competitors’ coverage was not related to the demographic characteristics of online journalists or to the geographic locations of news Web sites. This study used discriminant analysis to test whether personal characteristics and geographic locations could predict the decision by online journalists to ignore or use competitors’ coverage.

 

Table 2: Tests of the equality of group means of demographic characteristics and geographic locations with canonical discriminant function.
Note: * is significant at p = 0.05. P values indicate whether the variables showed significant group differences in terms of the decision to ignore or use competitors’ coverage. The last row of the table indicates that one significant function was generated.
VariablesWilks’ lambdaF valueDegrees of freedomp–value
Geographic location0.9295.543720.021*
Gender0.9970.213720.646
Age0.9861.002720.320
Years of experience0.9692.342720.130
Political standing0.9493.844720.054
Education (recoding)0.9851.0973720.299
Income (recoding)0.9722.053720.156
EigenvalueCanonical correlationWilks’ lambdaChi–squareDegrees of freedomp–value
0.2440.4430.80414.95270.037*

 

In Table 2, only the geographic location showed group differences in terms of the decision to ignore or use competitors’ coverage. Demographic characteristics were not related to the decision. Thus, the second hypothesis was supported by the results for demographic variables, but it was not supported by those for the geographic location. The last row of Table 2 reveals that one function was generated, which was significant (Δ = 0.804, χ2(7, N = 74) = 14.952, p = 0.037). This indicates that the function of geographic location significantly differentiated between the decision to ignore and that to use. This decision accounted for 19.6 percent (η2 = 0.4432 = 0.196) of the function variance. The geographic location was significantly related to the function. The function was labeled as “News Web site’s geographic response.”

The original classification outcomes reveal that 31.3 percent of the decision to ignore was correctly classified, whereas 93.1 percent of the decision to use was correctly classified. Overall, 79.7 percent of the total sample was correctly classified, and the cross–validation shows 78.4 percent accuracy for the total sample. The decision to ignore had a function mean of 0.928, whereas the decision to use had a mean of -0.256. These results suggest that news Web sites in small areas ignored competitors’ coverage and that those in metropolitan areas used it. For clear results, this study conducted a crosstab analysis for the relationship between the geographic location and the decision type. Online journalists in Seoul and metropolitan areas used competitors’ coverage (81 percent) instead of ignoring it (19 percent). Those in small areas preferred to ignore the coverage (60 percent). The difference between the two decisions was close to a statistical significance (Chi–square (χ2) = 5.939, df = 2, p = 0.051).

The research question addressed which story elements (i.e., the story’s headline, lead, source, theme, development, and context) online journalists considered when using competitors’ coverage for updates and whether they gave them credit for the coverage. When using competitors’ coverage, 38.2 percent of online journalists (76) credited the competitors for their stories. Next, 17.1 percent of the journalists focused on the context, followed by the theme (13.2 percent), the development (11.8 percent), and the headline (10.5 percent). The “Other” category (3.9 percent) included “checking a unique story,” “checking facts and press releases,” and “adding new information,” while 1.3 percent of the journalists used the source in the competitor’s coverage.

Some online journalists participating in the survey point out that providing their readers with in–depth information and satisfying the readers’ needs for quality of news is more important than beating their competitors. In other words, online journalists perceive guiding their readers toward a right direction as more meaningful than breaking stories. To fulfill this purpose, online journalists often develop detailed stories by using competitors’ coverage so that their readers want to read their stories. Competitors’ stories serve as a baseline for identifying newsworthy elements and developing a full story. This context justifies why online journalists cite competitors’ coverage.

 

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Discussion and conclusion

The results indicate that online journalists use competitors’ news coverage as a source for updates. When using competitors’ stories, most of online journalists (80.3 percent) either give the competitors credit for the story or focus on a given story’s context, theme, and development. In addition, online journalists update their content more than five times a day. However, the frequency of monitoring online competitors is not correlated to the usage patterns of their competitors’ news coverage. The decision to ignore or use competitors’ coverage is not related to online journalists’ personal characteristics but is related to the geographic location of their news Web site.

These findings reveal the nature of online news production. That is, online journalists are likely to be working under the economic and symbolic power relations. These two types of power relations control the news–making processes in the traditional news organizations (Bourdieu, 1996), and they could be further applied to online news outlets.

First, dominant online media could need more news items at a faster pace than secondary online news media to maintain the economic power relations or to increase their market share. The possible solution is a stable flow of fresh online news content from their newsroom or from competitors. Competitors’ coverage is a reliable source for this purpose. This often results in the decision to use competitors’ coverage, explaining why online journalists in large metropolitan areas use competitors’ coverage more frequently than those in smaller areas. In prior research (Arant and Anderson, 2001), large news Web sites update news content more frequently than small ones because large news outlets have more resources and staff than smaller ones. In contrast, less frequent updates by Web sites in smallwe areas often lead to the decision to ignore competitors’ coverage. Ironically, these less frequent updates could contribute to placing smaller Web sites in a secondary position in online news. Smaller Web sites may use content of their competitors and large news sites or at least to provide links to content. These efforts could induce more visits to smaller Web sites.

Second, the symbolic power relations could dictate that online journalists working for larger sites maintain their symbolic dominance by producing exclusive coverage (e.g., scoops) and updating their in–depth content. If online journalists notice that their competitors publish a story first on the Web, these journalists are likely to utilize the story and to update content on their news site. This updating is likely to focus on detailed information not provided in the competitors’ story. Lim (2011) found that the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today provide an updated version of stories on the basis of the other newspapers’ stories. Similar patterns are found in online news outlets.

This usage of competitors’ stories aims to attract news users searching for information so that ultimately these users are more likely to purchase products advertised on the sites (Schlosser, et al., 2006). In some way, the responses of these users could be a proxy method of estimating which news outlets are more dominant and efficient in producing online news. News users are unlikely to care about who breaks a given story first, but they are interested in detailed information to be updated frequently (Gahran, 2011). In this sense, using competitors’ coverage is a strategic choice for fulfilling the need of securing symbolic dominance. That is why in this study, 69.1% of online journalists use competitors’ news coverage. This supports this study’s main argument that competitors’ news coverage serves as a valid source for online reporting. The high proportion implies that the usage of competitors’ news coverage could be part of online newsroom routines, though a much more extensive survey of online journalists is needed. The usage also expands the argument that journalists share reality with other journalists (Donsbach, 2004) to include online journalists.

Third, the reliance on competitors’ content as a source has another implication for online journalists. Online journalists experience instant feedback from Internet users and intense competition for real–time news reporting. One respondent said, “We, online journalists, are under considerable pressure to publish content on a real–time basis, sometimes, without checking the facts. Later, after correcting the original report, we post updates.” In particular, when visitors to a portal notice an important story initiated by a news Web site, they are likely to read it further by following the link to the site. This increases a given site’s page views. In response to this situation, competitors’ coverage serves as a meaningful trigger or a springboard that guides coverage of stories. Specifically, online journalists cover a story mostly by focusing on structural elements (e.g., giving credit to their competitors’ coverage). Or, online journalists pay attention to a story’s context, theme, or development. The outcome of the usage of competitors’ coverage is the circulation of similar stories among different news outlets. As in previous research (Boczkowski, 2009), content availability (e.g., more stories to be published) and reputational dynamics (e.g., prevention of being beaten by competitors) often lead online journalists to imitate competitors’ stories.

Fourth, the frequency of monitoring online competitors is not directly transferred to the usage of competitors’ coverage. This phenomenon contradicts the findings of Boczkowski (2009), who found that monitoring leads to imitation in online news media. This implies that usage patterns are related to qualitative elements of monitoring instead of the quantitative state of monitoring. Regardless of monitoring frequency, online journalists decide to use their competitors’ coverage as an important source when they value the utility of the coverage. In some cases, online journalists do not use competitors’ coverage while monitoring coverage. They may merely evaluate the coverage without any intention of incorporating it into their stories. That is why the percentages of ignoring coverage are relatively noticeable.

In addition, online journalists update content throughout each day. This is consistent with previous online media research (Arant and Anderson, 2001; Brill, 2001; Klinenberg, 2005; Leckner and Appelgren, 2007), which suggested that online news media update their content constantly. Another respondent said, “We update the content on a real–time basis during the 24–hour news cycle.” This explains why the result for the item “the median number of updates” (5) is high on a scale of 0 (never) to 7 (more than six).

Follow–up studies need to conduct in–depth interviews with online journalists to better understand their perspectives, thoughts, and understanding. Because a single–method approach is limited in collecting sufficient information, using different methods would be useful. For instance, an online survey provides a broad picture and detailed information necessary for hypotheses and research questions. In–depth interview has an advantage in addressing those issues not covered by an online survey. This multi–method approach has been frequently adopted in communication research, such as the combination of content analysis and in–depth interview (Esrock, et al., 2002) and that of content analysis and a survey (Valenzuela, 2009; Wu and Coleman, 2009). In addition, this study examined online journalists in South Korea, and thus, researchers need to investigate online journalists in other countries.

Online journalists strategically consider competitors’ news coverage as information for updates. When using this coverage, online journalists use a newsworthy story by giving their competitors credit for the story. Online journalists also use context, theme, and development in a given story from competitors. These patterns imply that the nature of online news relies on the ability to attain news users’ attention and that competitors’ coverage is a source that provides additional items for updates.

The frequent usage of competitors’ coverage results from differing relationships among online news outlets. These news outlets are positioned in a structurally organized space, such as a field, and they compete for obtaining a dominant position at economic and symbolic levels. Dominant news Web sites maintain their power relations by using their competitors’ coverage for further, detailed information.

A distinct group of researchers suggest that ethnographic approaches from anthropological and sociological traditions could provide an accurate picture of the culture and practice of online media production (Paterson and Domingo, 2008). These ethnographic methodologies could serve as a useful guideline for revealing how economic and symbolic power relations induce online journalists to respond to competitors’ coverage. End of article

 

About the author

Jeongsub Lim is an Associate Professor in the School of Communication at Sogang University, South Korea. His research focuses on news–making processes, online journalism, and framing building and its effects on public opinion. His research appears in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Computer–Mediated Communication, International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Asian Journal of Communication, Journalism Studies, Journalism Practice, Public Relations Review, and elsewhere.
E–mail: limj [at] sogang [dot] ac [dot] kr

 

Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the National Research Foundation of Korea (grant number 201033018.01).

 

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Editorial history

Received 7 October 2012; revised 23 October 2012; accepted 24 October 2012.


Copyright © 2012, First Monday.
Copyright © 2012, Jeongsub Lim.

Competitors’ news coverage as a source within economic and symbolic power relations
by Jeongsub Lim
First Monday, Volume 17, Number 11 - 5 November 2012
http://www.firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4265/3358
doi:10.5210/fm.v17i11.4265





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