But I disagree with Amoss that it’s unfair to focus on the top box of a new site’s homepage and ignore the “interior pages of the site.” All content analyses have to restrict the scope of their research, and there is no better place to look for a news organization’s priorities than at its front page and its home page.
And while it’s true that all printed material (found here to be harder and better-sourced) flows across all digital platforms, it’s also true that the operation produces in total fewer full printed editions weekly than before. Instead of seven full papers, the operation produces three full papers, three tabloids, plus an early, bulldog edition of the Sunday paper.
Also, I understand that Nola stories are often reported incrementally, with sources added throughout the day, but I’m far from convinced that that practice alone would explain the sourcing discrepancy between the two periods, particularly since the 2013 print paper was found to have fewer sources than its 2011 counterpart.
Finally, I don’t think the snapshot approach is invalid at all. There is no special reason, for instance, that a snapshot approach would tend to collect “softer” and less-well sourced stories on digital platforms, and not “harder,” better-sourced stories. There is nothing in the methodology that would tend to produce such an outcome, and this is what the data show.
In the end, the print-to-print comparison on sourcing is, for me, telling: Stories in 2011 had more sources than those in 2013. Period. This has nothing to do with digital. And let’s remember, 2011 was far from the T-P’s heyday; Advance had already put the paper through severe cutbacks beforehand.
The study should be taken as a first attempt to compare news content before and after a self-described “digital-first” changeover. Amoss is right that the study also exposes the difficulties of trying to track the content of digital news operation, which is by definition more fluid, varied, and changeable. He is also correct that comparing print to digital outputs is problematic. One, as he says, should look different from the other.
Still, I find this to be a meaningful, if not definitive, comparison, of the news judgments of Nola.com operation versus that of its Times-Picayune predecessor. It reveals a sourcing drop-off between the two periods and suggests a more sensationalist, soft focus of the digital product.
In that way, it is an important start in understanding the production imperatives of digital news more generally.
Here is the full report, related graphs, and raw data: