Social Media and Journalism

A recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs examined how television media outlets use social media, specifically Twitter, as a journalistic too.. In fact, the study demonstrated that Twitter is used primarily as a marketing tool as it found that 93% of tweets from any of a selected group of media outlets contained a link back to some page on the outlet’s website. News organizations and reporters did not use Twitter to break stories, but used it to promote links to the webpage where there is more information about a story than can fit into 140 characters.

In the news world, Facebook is also used primarily as a marketing tool. When a user is logged into his or her Facebook account, any stories recently shared by friends will be displayed in a feed on Boston.com’s homepage. The website of the Boston Globe also offers buttons for users to connect to the newspaper online or to share a story digitally through any of a number of platforms.
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Each of the three boxes on the left of this image can be found on the homepage of http://www.myfoxboston.com, while the box on the right appears when a reader is viewing a story.

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WHDH.com offers a main tab on its homepage which features a live feed of the station’s Twitter account as well as links to each affiliated Twitter account, in addition to having the generic buttons found on the homepage and accompanying each story.
WHDH_Social_Media_links.jpg

Though it is impossible to definitively study other potential applications of social media in journalism, the possibilities are endless. In August of 2011, sports broadcasting network ESPN published a social media policy to be adhered to by all employees in the public eye. Perhaps the most important or noticeable part of that policy states that ESPN employees are not to break news on Twitter. Reporters must report any news back to the headquarters, where the ESPN team will work to back up the story with fact-checking and usually team or league sources before the news can be broadcast on an ESPN platform and only then can it be posted on Twitter.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages to using social platforms, both in a journalistic sense and in a marketing or sharing sense:

Pros

  • People with access to the Internet may receive news more quickly than a traditional print newspaper.
  • Twitter, Facebook, and other similar sites allow for the rapid spread of information between users.
  • Individuals can access stories of interest off of online publications geared towards these subjects.
  • Broadcast journalism can more easily expand as websites, such as Youtube, gain popularity and videos become commonplace as a supplement to online news stories.
  • Reading the news becomes an interactive experience for readers. Instead of simply looking through a printed copy of a news article, a reader can now go online, read the article there, and be presented with videos to enhance the message of the story. Discussion boards also open up the news story for review and criticism, and provide readers with a platform to share their opinions on the piece or the topic it is about.
  • “Crowd sourcing”- Jeff Howe, Wired Magazine- the idea that you put out an open call to the world, asking “How can we answer this question?”, and people respond back. This is a valuable way to gain insight on stories that may depend on eyewitness sources, as well as first-hand photographs of stories.
  • http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/crowds.html

Major news sources,such as ABC and FOX, have Youtube pages containing various news stories and other videos of interest.
http://www.youtube.com/user/ABCNews
http://www.youtube.com/user/FoxNewsChannel

Other news sources, including BBC and CNN, provide “widgets” for websites to include into their pages and allow people to access a newsfeed of the latest breaking stories.

Example of news stories becoming increasingly available on news websites:
http://www.cnn.com/video/standard.html

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Cons

  • Individuals may be less inclined to buy a printed newspaper or read a news story in its entirety.
  • Online news may provide less opportunities for newspapers to make money off of subscriptions.
  • Certain social media sites may limit how media is expressed, for example, Twitter “tweets” are limited to 140 characters.
  • With sites such as Twitter and Facebook, you follow and are friends with a certain group of people. You’re constantly hearing comments from the same people and are constantly having your opinions reinforced. Unlike traditional news finding, where you are introduced to stories and ideas you may not have necessarily found on your own, you’re presented with stories that may only be of interest to your social circle.
  • Social media groups may revolve around a limited variety of news.
  • Sources cannot always be trusted. In many cases, there may not even be any sources listed to see whether the social media news is reliable or not.
  • You can never depend on social media for the news because sometimes masses of people will believe one news story is true, when really it is not.
  • Social media can never replace true journalism.

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“The Political Power of Social Media” by Clay Shirky

“…sociologists Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld discovered that mass media alone do not change people’s minds; instead, there is a two-step process. Opinions are first transmitted by the media, and then they get echoed by friends, family members, and colleagues. It is in this second, social step that political opinions are formed. This is the step in which the Internet in general, and social media in particular, can make a difference. As with the printing press, the Internet spreads not just media consumption but media production as well- it allows people to privately and publicly articulate and debate a welter of conflicting views.” (Shirky, 34)

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