Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » How credible is online journalism?


We're excited to be working with the Associated Press Managing Editors Credibility project. APME is an industry organization that has developed this effort to build readers' trust in newspapers.

This year's focus is on online journalism. How credible is it? How do you know you're visiting a trusted Web site where information has been vetted? For example, much was written recently about how easy it is to perpetuate a hoax on Wikipedia, yet many students -- and even reporters -- rely on this Web site as if it's fact.

We want to look at how we best build a site that inspires the same faith in it as our 162-year-old newspaper, the second-oldest in Texas. At our monthly meeting Tuesday, our ethics board discussed how we might measure this through a joint project with APME.

We're fortunate to have Macarena Hernandez, the new director of Latino initiatives at the University of Houston-Victoria and a new member of our ethics board, join us in this effort. She plans to help us recruit UHV students to conduct a phone survey of our audience on what they think of online journalism. These students also would participate in a community forum later this summer on the topic. We hope you'll join in the conversation both online and in person.

My working theory is that people trust any conversation more if they're a part of it. You instinctively become a little suspicious of any conversation over there in the corner out of earshot. The more we engage people in the conversation, the more they become constructive members of society.

The most exciting feature of any news Web site is interactivity, another way to reach out to readers. However, you also encounter the trolls who might scare away regular people and stifle the conversation. How do you find the right balance in moderating a forum and promote a constructive community conversation?

We'll be working to narrow the long list of questions we have to a handful that can be successfully asked in a random phone survey. Please add any questions you have. Here's the long list our ethics board discussed:

  • How would you compare the trustworthiness of what you read in the print edition of the Victoria Advocate vs. (More, less or the same)

  • prominently features reader contributions such as blogs and article comments. How does this affect the site's credibility in your opinion? (More, less or the same)

  • (Question for those who answer yes to contributing to site) How does your participation on affect your view of the newspaper's credibility? (Enhances it, reduces it, no difference)

  • (Question for those who answer no to contributing to site) What factors most keep you from commenting or blogging on (No interest, no time, unpleasant comments by others, other reasons???)

  • How do you compare the credibility of to other Web sites you visit? (More, less, the same)

  • (Question for those who answer more) What factors make you say is more credible?

  • (Question for those who answer less) What factors make you say is less credible?

After talking about these, the board seemed to like most these two questions:

1) How would you rate the credibility of these features? (On a scale of 1 to 10 with "I don't know" an option as well.)

  • SpeakOut
  • Letters to the editor
  • Front-page news articles
  • Online reader comments
  • Reader blogs
  • Staff blogs
  • Staff Tweets
  • Reader Tweets
  • Advocate video
  • Prep sports coverage
  • A3 calendar items
  • Online calendar items
  • Print advertising
  • Online advertising

2) How do these same features affect the overall credibility of the Victoria Advocate. (On a scale of 1 to 10.)

We also discussed quite a few other questions. In no particular order, here are others:

  • Would it add credibility to to validate reader identification?

  • How would the ability to rank reader comments affect your view of their credibility?

  • What would make you more likely to participate in our site? (The idea to this question is to get at the notion that increased participation would enhance credibility, i.e., if people are involved in the conversation, they're much more likely to consider it credible. This also serves a dual purpose of increasing the traffic on our site. If we could devise a question that gets at ways to increase participation, this could be a win for us.)

  • What sites do you regularly visit? (The idea here is to figure out how people spend their time online and how we might connect with them there.)

  • How would you rate the credibility of these sites? (Develop a list of the most popular sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube,, Yahoo News, Google News,, etc.)

  • How important is it to you to know the identity of the contributor for you to evaluate the submission's credibility?

  • Are articles that allow reader comments more or less trustworthy?

  • When you read content at how easily can you identify the source of the information?

Many more questions than we'll be able to answer with this one project, but it's an exciting start.