News writing, defamation top journalism search list

News writing and defamation top the list of search topics bringing visitors from around the world to the new The News Manual.

A three-month survey of traffic shortly after the site was launched showed growth across most subject areas, but several stand out as most popular.

Heading the list is news writing and story structure, accounting for more than 12 percent of search terms used.

The actual wording indicates most are from people studying journalism or working in the media. Generalised search terms such as “news story” or “story structure” have not be counted in the survey.

The inverted pyramid still seems popular with searchers, along with writing intros (“leads” in the U.S.) and “WWWWW&H”, suggesting that these trusted staples of journalism education are still in active use.

The survey looked at more than 2,000 specific search terms falling into 55 subject categories based on the 73 chapters and 50 other resource, links and associated pages on the site.

Second most popular by a clear margin was defamation, which bought more than eight percent of searchers. Again, generalised terms with no media connection were excluded, as were search phrases which suggested private individuals seeking advice on how to commence or defend defamation actions. It was, however, impossible to distinguish from the media-related phrases whether the searchers were journalists and media students or just people interested in how defamation works in the media.

Third most popular was quotes and attribution, with search phrases falling into three main areas: professional news writing questions of what they are and how they are used; practical advice on punctuation, especially the placement of commas, full-stops (points) and quote marks and thirdly professional ethical issues on why quotes and attribution should be used, including the treatment of partial quotes.

As with many of the phrases accepted for inclusion, a number of the queries seemed to have been cut-and-pasted directly from the same exercise or examination question, probably one set by a journalism teacher.

For example, the following cropped up several times in a couple of weeks: “To show the importance of accurately attributing information to sources, provide two or three examples of what can happen when news is not accurately attributed”. Either it was one person returning several times to the same search or several students doing the same exercise!

It is difficult to condemn such initiative - especially as this specific phraseology in Google took them straight to The News Manual - but it does raise interesting questions for educators about how their students research assignments.

The fourth most popular searched-for subject led to a new feature of the online version of The News Manual not in the original hard-copy textbook - links to more than 100 other sites related to journalism and the media. More than six percent of search visitors found in The News Manual Online links to journalism and communications courses at colleges and universities around the world.

The other top ten most searched-for issues in The News Manual Online were: radio and television (which often overlapped with other topics, as in “news writing for radio”); about The News Manual itself; crime reporting (which was carefully distinguished from people seeking advice on how to report a crime to police); what is news and newsworthiness; investigative journalism and court reporting.

Top 10 Searched Topics
News writing and story structure
Quotes and attribution
Links to journalism courses
Radio and television
The News Manual and its authors
Crime reporting
What is news and newsworthiness
Investigative journalism
Court reporting, contempt and privilege

Some other interesting findings include the frequent questions about vox pops, news pictures and captions, sports journalism and obituaries, all specialist areas which seem alive and well - pun intended - in the world of journalism.

It’s also worth noting that of the 55 subject areas tracked, issues of journalism ethics and media law tended to be more sought-after than many other topics, comprising a third of the subject areas searched for in the top 20 categories. Interestingly, searches for anti-terrorism laws affecting the media occupied twenty-first spot on the table, down from its position in the top 10 when the site was first launched in 2008, admittedly within a much smaller sample.

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Data analysis

It is also worth reiterating that this survey’s reliance on a relatively small sample of search terms counted and on some necessarily subjective judgments on whether search phrases were journalism or media-related make hard analysis problematic. The results are now several months old and were no more than indicative of what kind of topics bring Internet searchers to a site such as The News Manual Online. Traffic to the site continues to grow and it now hosts more than 2,000 sessions and 4,500 page views a week. It also attracts more than 40,000 hits a week, though this is a very unreliable measure of activity.

Finally, perhaps the most gratifying aspect of this survey is to see where our visitors hail from around the world.

It is, of course, impossible to tell country-of-origin from domain suffixes such as .com, .edu, .net and .org. But there are sufficient other international country codes to identify the nationality of many visitors, and there is barely a country missing from the Urchin* reports of people visiting the site.

The original three-volume The News Manual was written with a varied international audiences in mind. It is gratifying to see the online version has brought it to a global audience.

For more information or just to leave comments, please do not hesitate to get in touch through the Contact Us page.

David Ingram
November 2009

* Urchin is a form of statistical report provided by website hosting companies to web publishers, showing information about traffic to the site, including search terms which have brought visitors to it. These reports do NOT identify individual visitors and what they searched for.

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Survey of the most searched for subjects in The News Manual
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