Analysis: Fewer than 7 percent of ERR's news stories are original
Of the stories published on public broadcaster ERR's online news portal (err.ee), 6.7 percent constitute original content, while the weight of original articles by entertainment portal Menu editors is just 0.5 percent, a study by University of Tartu research fellow Marju Himma suggests.
The Estonian Association of Media Enterprises filed a complaint last week centered around the claim that ERR has been given illicit state aid. At the heart of the complaint are three further claims:
- ERR is creating news content in its online portal that it should not be doing as an entity offering a public service because it competes with private media.
- ERR is competing with private media in entertainment content creation via the menu.err.ee portal and Jupiter streaming service.
- ERR should not have access to state budget funding for procuring sports broadcast rights.
All of these claims are both provable and refutable based mainly on how one interprets the section of the Estonian Public Broadcasting Act according to which ERR is tasked with producing television and radio programs and make their content available in electronic form, including as an archive, to a sensible degree (see ERHS § 5).
If the third item concerning sports broadcasts funding requires a fundamental position on the level of policymaking, extent of criticism can be measured to some extent regarding the first two items. More specifically, how many original news items the ERR news portal (Uudised) and entertainment portal (Menu) publish.
The latter problem is what this modest content analysis deals with. It analyzed 924 articles using a constructed week sample, looking at how often ERR online portals publish original news content versus information from other ERR programs, other journalistic publications or yet other sources.
Original stories are most common in the sports portal that is largely tied to distinctive features of the category. Sports news present results without referencing the source of the information. A report on the outcome of a soccer match counts as an original news story. Results of other sporting events and competitions have also been counted as original stories in the analysis because the text makes it impossible to ascertain the source of the information and the journalist's contribution.
Of the 356 news portal stories analyzed, 62 were original stories based on reporting by ERR journalists, or original stories, making up 6.7 percent of all stories. These fewer than 7 percent of stories are what the Estonian Association of Media Enterprises describes as the result of illegal state aid and competing with private media.
The rest are either references to other ERR programs (13.4 percent), references to other media publications (11.8 percent), social media or press releases (6.6).
Original stories published in ERR's culture portal are often reviews from co-authors. During the COVID-19 crisis, the portal also mediated film recommendations as own stories. As concerns other ERR programs, the portal references "OP" or culture-related topics from the "Terevisioon" and "Ringvaade" TV shows. The ERR culture portal also publishes content summaries of stories published in magazines Sirp, Müürileht, Looming et al.
As is the case with the culture portal, the number of original stories in the opinion section of ERR online owes most to the contribution of outside authors. Most opinion pieces are by outside authors anyone can send to the opinion editor. The opinion section also publishes opinions voiced as Vikerraadio daily comments.
Original pieces by editors of ERR's Novaator portal made up 1.6 percent of all online stories.
The content of the entertainment portal (Menu) is made up of references to other ERR programs or information from other entertainment publications. This is similar to the situation in Finland. Accusations of illicit state aid have seen rules put in place for the Finnish public broadcaster according to which it can only publish as text content that expands on radio and television programming. What the Menu portal publishes is just that – mediation of information conveyed by ERR television and radio programs. There is virtually no original journalistic content – just 0.5 percent of all ERR online content.
Some online stories might seem like original articles, while in truth the same topic has been covered in radio news and sometimes the evening "Aktuaalne kaamera" news program. The piece has simply been published online first in the interests of operative coverage. Such stories were coded as online stories referenced from radio or TV news in the analysis as the journalist's work has been for the purpose of two or three channels.
ERR online also has automated workflow that automatically publishes television and radio news stories online. The analysis also covered these stories, categorizing them in the interest of clarity as ERR content references. Such stories numbered 135 in all.
The survey looked at one aspect of many that the Estonian Association of Media Enterprises concentrated on in its complaint. It is possible to analyze on a deeper level the permissibility or inadmissibility of state aid, looking at work organization details, such as how much of an employee's working time and salary is spent on which activities. Or by analyzing how many clicks ERR news portals have taken away from private media. I'm sure it will be looked at when the association's complaint is discussed.
How was the analysis carried out?
Following the principle of a constructed week sample, seven days were selected to look at all stories ERR.ee had published on those days. A constructed week means picking seven days with one month between each of them to avoid overrepresentation of hot topics or journalistic forms. In simpler terms, the sample included the Monday of the first week of January (January 6), a Tuesday in February one month on (February 11), a Wednesday in March etc. ERR's streaming platform Jupiter was left out of the analysis as it is a separate media publication and not part of the ERR online news portal.
The analysis at hand has been put together following professional interest in the topic, it was not commissioned or coaxed by anyone and the author has not been paid in any form. The author is happy to share the data with everyone who wishes to access it.
This article is referring to ERR's Estonian online news website err.ee and not to the English news website news.err.ee. However, ERR News does translate stories from ERR's Estonian service.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski