Last week The Atlantic published a very informal "poll" where they talked to various media "insiders" were asked if the Internet had a positive or negative effect on journalism. About 65 percent agreed that journalism was suffering during the age of the Internet.
But here's the thing. The sample size was pretty small. In fact, it included 45 people. The demographics also came across as a little screwy. The average person that answered the poll was white, male, and 53-years-old. Just for fun, I decided to do a graphic representation of the people (who are listed at the bottom of The Atlantic article) who were included in the survey.
Next, age (you'll notice that the 18-24 age group, one that is the most "online) of any adult population according to the Pew poll in 2009 of generations online) aren't represented at all:
It's also important to note that the oldest people polled were television journalists Sam Donaldson and Jim Lehrer, who are 75 and 74 respectively. The youngest was Frank Foer, editor of The New Republic, who is somewhere around 34 (I got his age from a three-year-old New York Times article and added the appropriate years).
Now, I don't mean to be ageist. Obviously just because someone is a little older doesn't mean they can't use the Internet, but there are significant differences between how different generations view modern media. Increasingly young people (and the rest of the population) are turning to the Internet to get their information rather than to printed newspapers or magazines. Having a generation of media "insiders" that isn't representative of the population as a whole could be a bigger part of the problem than the Internet.
Finally, race and ethnicity:
The respondents were also heavily biased by their primary medium; more than half of respondents came from a print background:
Some the people polled by The Atlantic were also employed by the National Journal Group, the company that owns The Atlantic: Four of respondents, or about 8 percent, were employed by either Government Executive or by The Atlantic itself. The Atlantic, to be fair, has done a lot to embrace media changes, employing full-time bloggers and creating online "channels" for those with special interests like food or politics. But it's also important to disclose the fact that you are including some of your employees or colleagues in the poll that you publish.
Granted, I know that mostly The Atlantic decided to do this poll to gain some quick hits and generate discussion about the future of journalism. It is, after all, something that is weighing heavily on media professionals' minds these days. But a poll like this doesn't really tell us much except that a few of the old guard of media elites are distrustful of a medium that has been around for more than a decade. The Internet certainly isn't going away as means of distributing information. It's more than a little frightening that so many "insiders" think that a research tool like the Internet is doing harm to journalism.
Granted, I don't think that the Internet is a substitute for reporting. Nothing will ever substitute talking to experts and people that are deeply immersed in an issue. But I don't think the Internet is a "harm" to journalism. Maybe if they would've asked a few people under 30 they would have gotten some very different results.