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

Study Also Indicates Big Use of PR Professionals for News and Information, But Highlights Media’s Dislike of PR “Hype,” “Spin,” and Poor “Pitches.”

CHICAGO, IL, March 2, 2009   Reporters and editors queried in a year-end survey by Cision, in conjunction with The George Washington University s Graduate School of Political Management and Don Bates, adjunct professor with the school and PR veteran, 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.

 I was surprised by the admission among the respondents of the high degree to which they depend on public relations professionals and the tools of PR,  said Bates, founding director of GW s strategic public relations graduate program, which launched in 2008 and is now headed by Larry Parnell, associate professor.  The survey makes it clearer than ever that journalists can t do without public relations professionals any more than public relations professionals can do without journalists. It s a symbiotic relationship.  Click here for survey analysis and report (

Web Use by Journalists Similar for All Age Levels

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. Added Bates:  Our findings confirm that journalists of all types and ages are quickly adapting to the new media landscape by utilizing multiple online sources for editing and reporting. The challenge for PR people will be keeping up. 

Survey History

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.  Without Cision s in-kind support, this study would never have been done,  Bates said, stressing that neither he nor GW or the school received compensation for doing the survey.  It was a labor of love. 

Journalists Like PR, but Not Hype and Spam

 It s extremely important to note that, as reliant as journalists are on public relations assistance, those who responded demanded that PR professionals adhere more strongly to best practices,  McFarland said. “Many of the traditional complaints by journalists about too much  hype  and e-mail  spam  from the PR community came through loud and clear on the verbatim commentary to the open-ended questions. 

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.  Clearly,  said McFarland,  PR professionals have to work a lot harder to deliver credible ideas and information. 

Major Survey Findings

  • Website usage  all the time  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.

McFarland s team administered the outreach to 12,337 editors and journalists, who were solicited by e-mail for the 10-minute questionnaire, and tabulated the results for the final analysis. Those surveyed work at magazines (39%), newspapers (28%), Internet-based media including blogs (27%), and broadcast media (6%). McFarland said understanding how the media collect their information and story ideas is essential to Cision s ability to not only maintain the world s largest and best-maintained media database but to also continue helping leaders in the public relations industry, the media, and academia develop the agenda for best PR practices.

About the Survey:
Cision and GW s Bates jointly conducted the survey 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. A custom questionnaire consisting of both open-ended and closed-end questions was sent to 12,337 editor/journalists in November and December of 2008.

About the George Washington University’s Strategic Public Relations Program:
Established in the fall of 2008, GW s Strategic Public Relations Program offers a master s degree, both on campus and online, and a graduate certificate. The program is part of GW s Graduate School of Political Management (, which also offers graduate degrees in political management, legislative affairs, and PAC management, as well as a certificate in community advocacy for not-for-profit organizations, and international programs in Latin America and Europe.

Don Bates
George Washington University

About Cision:
Cision is a leading global media intelligence company, serving the complete workflow of today s communications, social media and content marketing professionals. Offering the industry s most comprehensive PR and social software, rich analytics and a Global Insights team, Cision enables clients to improve their marketing and strengthen data-driven decision making. Cision also represents the Gorkana Group, PRWeb, Help a Reporter Out (HARO) and iContact brands. Headquartered in Chicago, Cision has over 100,000 customers worldwide and maintains offices in Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Finland and China. For more information, visit or follow @Cision on Twitter.