Some of the most recent communications research into the Internet compares the credibility of online news to that of traditional news outlets. Online sources of news fare well in most of the studies, especially among regular users of the Web.
Online news holds it own against traditional sources
Thomas J. Johnson and Barbara K. Kaye, in an article for the summer 1998 edition of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, wrote that online newspapers, news magazines, and political issue-oriented sites and traditional news outlets also were all rated as "somewhat" credible by the respondents to their survey.
The study also confirmed earlier research that there is a strong association between someone's reliance on a medium and how credible the subject finds that source of information. People who rely on newspaper and news magazines for information, for example, consider those media to be more credible.
Reliance on the Internet for political information was also associated with how credible the respondents considered online news to be compared to traditional sources. Politically interested Web users view online newspapers and online candidate literature as significantly more credible than their traditionally-delivered counterparts.
In a similar survey of Austin, Texas, residents, Spiro Kiousis found that his respondents gave higher credibility ratings to newspapers over television news and they assigned more credibility to the Internet than to television news.
Kiousis, who submitted his study to the 1999 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference, cautioned that the higher credibility for newspapers and the Internet might be a result of his sample, saying the population of Austin is typically higher educated than in cities of comparable size.
Online, it's who you are associated with
On the Web, whether a site is independent or associated with a traditional journalism organization can have an affect on how credible they seem to users.
Ekaterina Ognianova, in a study presented at the 1998 annual AEJMC conference, found that Web sites associated with a newspaper or with television networks were perceived as more credible than sites not associated with a news organization.
In her study, Ognianova set up an experiment. She rotated a set of stories presented in the same format between Web sites with the name of a fictious newspaper, television network, and a travel agency on them. Subjects also examined a Web site with no identifying information.
In sorting through the range of information and opinion online, most people will turn to what is comfortable or familiar. The New York Times is a known quantity as is ABC News. In trying to navigate through the opinions and information online, people will turn first to something that is familiar, relying on the companies' reputations in other realms to transfer into cyberspace.
One other interesting finding of Ognianova's study may have implications about how Internet users sort out who is credible online and who isn't. When quizzed about the Web site with no identifying information, subjects perceived it was sponsored by a newspaper. This default assumption might have an effect on a site's credibility - if it looks like a newspaper it must be a newspaper.