National Survey Finds Journalists Use Traditional Newsgathering Sources Just as Extensively as Online Sources



In November and December 2008, nearly 750 editors and journalists participated in a study conducted by Cision, GW’s Graduate School of Political Management, and Don Bates, adjunct professor with the school and PR veteran. The survey’s goal was to inform best practices and teaching in the public relations and political management fields and to deepen understanding of how editors and reporters use and value outside resources, including social media.

Reporters and editors, from newspapers, magazines, Internet-based media including blogs, and broadcast media, queried in the year-end survey reported that Websites, submissions from public relations professionals, and press kits were among their most frequently used sources of information for stories. These were followed by conferences and events, industry newswires, trade journals, blogs, social networking sites, and podcasts. One hundred percent of the respondents said they regularly use Websites for editing and reporting; 94 percent said they use information from PR professionals; and 87 percent said they regularly refer to press kits.

The survey of newsgathering methods also contradicted the perception that younger members of the workforce use online tools more frequently. It found that editors and reporters in all age brackets are now heavily dependent on the Web, with more than 90 percent using it as their primary tool overall in editing and reporting. In fact, respondents who reported that they use the Web “all the time” was highest, albeit by a slim margin, among those 30–49, with those 50 and above the second-heaviest users, followed by those 29 or younger.

Bates devised the survey based on his prior studies of media practices and professional public relations, while a Cision team led by Ruth McFarland, senior vice president of research and publisher, amplified the study’s custom research instrument of open-ended and closed-ended questions. Cision, formerly known as Bacon’s Information, is the largest provider of media research, distribution, monitoring, and analysis services for the public relations industry.

While acknowledging heavy use of submissions from the PR industry, the journalists also strongly endorsed a list of proposed improvements in “pitches” by PR professionals, including calls for clearer writing, less promotional material, more newsworthy submissions, and a better understanding of the journalists’ individual beats and areas of interest and expertise.


  • Website usage for editing and reporting is highest among those age 30–49 (94%), followed by those age 50+ (92%), and then those age 29 or younger (91%).
  • Social networking sites and podcasts are used least often for editing and reporting compared to other sources overall, and most often by editors/ journalists younger in age and experience. Blogs are used almost as often as trade journals, overall.
  • Of the nine sources examined, submissions from PR professionals are used by more than 94 percent of editors/journalists.
  • For identifying or developing story ideas, Websites are most important to editors/journalists, followed by submissions from PR professionals. Social networking sites and podcasts are rated as unimportant.
  • For monitoring responses to stories, only Websites and blogs are considered important; conferences, trade journals, industry newswires, social networking sites, and podcasts are rated as unimportant.
  • Editors/journalists agreed with seven of the eight improvement statements for e-mail pitches from communications professionals. Being more relevant to their beat/area of interest and being less promotional struck the strongest chords.
  • Over half of the editors/journalists responding wanted to receive unsolicited e-mail pitches from communications professionals as simple text only.