Newspaper’s Online Forums Go Unused

At a panel Saturday about blogging and online forums, Young-Gil Chae, a doctoral student in Radio-TV-Film at the University of Texas, showed contrasting panoramas.

On the one hand, he showed the audience at the International Online Journalism Symposium a Korean website where news and user reactions shared privileged front-page space. On the other, Chae displayed an American website, which required users to surf a three-screen maze before reaching its public forum. Some sites even demand user registration, on top of that.

Mark Tremayne, assistant journalism professor at UT and chair of the research panel, had to wonder: Are companies really encouraging participation on their sites?

Chae’s study, “Online Public Forums within Public Institutions,” focused on the construction and use of 25 forums on local online newspapers owned by large newspaper conglomerates such as Cox, Gannett and Hearst. Chae found that only half of the websites analyzed adopted an online forum; of those, 41% has less than 5 users. In short, people in the U.S. make little use of these forums.

Lou Rutigliano, a journalism doctoral student and another participant of the panel, suggested that there is not much participation in any institution’s online forums, not just newspapers. Government websites barely provide an email address, he said.

Although the political culture and mood in Korea is the source of these forums’ success and accessibility limitations do not singly explain the lack of participation, the first step is to increase access to technology, Chae said.

ISOJ 2005: Discussing the News, from Knight Center on Vimeo.