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Information seeking and use bynewspaper journalistsSimon Attfield and John DowellDepartment of Computer Science, University College London, London, UKKeywords Information retrieval, Newspapers, Employees, UncertaintyAbstract Reports an interview study into information seeking and use by journalists at a nationalBritish newspaper. Describes work activity in the context of a series of behaviour shapingconstraints and cognitive and external resources. Describes the journalist’s information seeking asmotivated by originality checking (of the angle), developing a personal understanding,discovering/confirming potential content and also describes information gathering andmanaging multiple information spaces. Shows how these are motivated by context, facilitated byresources, and how they enrich the journalist’s resource space. Also shows that journalistic work isuncertain as a function of an uncertain context and their continually evolving plans. These result inprovisional and unstable relevance judgments, and, during later stages, the reinitiating ofpreparatory information seeking activities, including the relocation and review of previously readdocuments. At the end presents a model to summarise the findings.IntroductionResearch in information science has seen the emergence of a trend, identified byDervin and Nilan (1986), of exploring the contexts of information seeking anduse. A number of key features are characteristic of this approach; these includethe aim of being receptive to differences manifest in different informationseeking and use situations, extending the focus of research beyond users’information system encounters to the wider context of use, exploring user’scognition as well as observable behaviour, and frequently adopting qualitativemethodologies to provide rich accounts of the information behaviours ofsmaller groups of individuals.A number of researchers working within this paradigm have the studiedinformation seeking and use as it occurs within work situations. For example,Ellis and Haugan (1997) report on the information seeking patterns of engineersand industrial research scientists. Their description is embedded within adetailed account of different project types and project phases. In the context ofthese, the authors identify eight major information seeking activities or“characteristics”:(1) surveying;(2) chaining;The Emerald Research Register for this journal is available at The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available athttp://www.emeraldinsight.com/researchregister http://www.emeraldinsight.com/0022-0418.htmThe authors would like to express their gratitude to The Times, London for allowing them toperform this study, and in particular to Richard Dixon for his generous help and valuable input.They would also like to thank Professor Stephen Robertson of Microsoft Research Ltd UK, formany valuable discussions about the work that they report.Informationseeking and use187Received 2 October 2002Revised 5 November2002Accepted 15 December2002Journal of DocumentationVol. 59 No. 2, 2003pp. 187-204q MCB UP Limited0022-0418DOI 10.1108/00220410310463860(3) monitoring;(4) browsing;(5) distinguishing;(6) filtering;(7) extracting; and(8) ending.Similarly, in a study of information searching by lawyers, Kuhlthau and Tama(2001) have reported that, among other things, the lawyers in question engagedin a range of both routine and complex tasks, and that for complex tasks theyemphasized need uncertainty during the early stages of constructing a theoryor strategy in a case, a finding that is consistent with Kuhlthau’s (1993) ISPmodel, and the consequent need to be able to explore materials in a way that isill-supported by traditional keyword systems.The research reported here adopts a similar approach to those of Ellis andHaugan (1997) and Kuhlthau (1993). We present findings from a qualitativeinterview study carried out at The Times newspaper in London during 2001 inwhich we identify a series of information activities of news journalists. The aimis provide a rich description of the forces motivating these behaviours in termsof the constraints imposed by the requirements of the product they produce, thesituation within which it is produced, and the resources that provide the meansfor its production. The study forms part of a project aiming to specify systemrequirements for integrated information retrieval and authoring systems basedon an understanding of journalistic information behaviours. In this paper wepresent findings that form the first part of our project. Design implications willbe reported elsewhere.In their study of lawyers, Kuhlthau and Tama (2001) prompted the lawyersto explain the process of their work, and, as part of their reporting, place someemphasis on how the lawyers exploit the material properties of particularresources to support particular cognitive activities. Specifically, the lawyersexpressed a preference for printed text since these seemed better to promoteserendipitous discovery (compared to analytic searching), and also since anumber of texts could be arranged in the physical workspace in a way thatenabled them to maintain orientation in their task and perform continual cross-referencing. All of these were particularly valued during the construction of acase strategy.The idea of explaining decisions and behaviours in terms of the physicalproperties of resources and the way in which these can play a role in particularkinds of cognitive activity has also emerged in recent years in HCI research aspart of the distributed cognition approach. A particularly relevant example is astudy by O’Hara et al. (2002) in which the authors explored the use of multiplesource materials during text composition by a range of professional andacademics.JD59,2188The present study adopts a similar approach. With the view thatinformation seeking not only includes the initial location of information, butalso its subsequent management and relocation, our concern has been not onlywith the initial retrieval of information, but also with the ways in whichjournalists organise and use information throughout the wider constructivetask. In part, this is a response to the need for integrated systems to considerinformation seeking not as an end in itself, but as frequently deeply embeddedwithin the wider goal of constructing a new information artifact. As Kuhlthauand Tama (2001) comment, for the most part:... information systems and services have been


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