Social Media and Journalism

The rise of social media as a way to receive news and information has transformed journalism including what is shared and how. Journalists have had to adapt to the changing landscape. Continue reading to find out how and what this means for journalism in the future.

The way that news is sent and received has evolved from the use of word-of-mouth, books, newspaper, radio, and television. New media technologies like the Internet have further added a way to do so as well. According to a report done at the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Americans still receive their news via television. However, the report also found that about four-in-ten Americans often get their news online as well (Mitchell, A., Gottfried, J., Barthel, M., & Shearer, E. 2016, July 07.) This research suggests that a digital way of receiving information could soon take over as the number one way of receiving information.

One way that many Americans receive their information online is through social media sites. Social media allows a person to seek out the most appealing information available to them. Social media sites offer different articles or headlines that the reader is able to pick and choose between, whereas on TV a person has to sit through and listen to the headlines given by the host. For example, Twitter offers its “Moments” page where they compile series of tweets into a trending topic. A recent example is the moment “NBC fires Matt Lauer over alleged inappropriate sexual conduct” where the tweets featured ranged from reactions from President Donald Trump to tweets from reporters linking users to articles on CNN. It is a useful tool for those trying to stay up to date with current events and whatever is trending at the moment.

Further research from the Pew Research Center indicates that, “As of August 2017, two-thirds (67%) of Americans report that they get at least some of their news on social media – with two in-ten doing so often” (Gottfried, J., Shearer, E., 2017). Meaning that people are not just simply using social media as a tool, but as a legitimate resource for information. Further supporting this are the increase in numbers of people reporting using websites such as Twitter, YouTube, and even Snapchat as a source for information.

“Since 2013, at least half of Twitter users have reported getting news on the site, but in 2017, with a president who frequently makes announcements on the platform, that share has increased to about three-quarters (74%), up 15 percentage points from last year. On YouTube, about a third of users now get news there (32%), up from 21% in 2016. And news use among Snapchat’s user base increased 12 percentage points to 29% in August 2017, up from 17% in early 2016” (Gottfried, J., Shearer, E., 2017).

Facebook is not out of the equation either. According to the same data by the Pew Research Institute, 45% of Americans are getting news from Facebook. Although Twitter’s percentage is higher it is due to the smaller amount of users on the site. A more accurate number would be that 11% of Americans get their news from Twitter.

While TV is still attracting many viewers, the Internet is making great strides as well. One factor that contributes to social media’s growth are the users themselves. According to the American Press Institute, Millennials higher use of social media has left an impact on the numbers reported.

“This generation tends not to consume news in discrete sessions or by going directly to news providers” the study states. “Instead, news and information are woven into an often continuous but mindful way that Millennials connect to the world generally, which mixes news with social connection, problem solving, social action, and entertainment.” (American Journal Press, 2017)

The fact that social media allows generations like Millennials to have access to different articles like this is a reason why social media has become so popular. In the same study, a young woman claimed that “If you’re on your Facebook or Twitter there’s a handful, maybe five things that are trending. It’s up to you to click on it and then you’ll see more.” Of course things like this can have serious repercussions like only reading headlines and not giving the articles the clicks it needs which can economically hurt the news site. However, it is something that is appealing to younger audiences because it gives them the control to read what they want to. There is no longer a gatekeeper that provides them with what they think is most important.

While readers have, for the most part, benefited from receiving their news online, today’s reporters have had to adapt to the changing landscape. The Associated Press Stylebook started including its social media guidelines in 2010 and additionally revised various online terms which helped cement online journalism. Journalists have not only had to adapt to online journalism, but they have also had to change the way they use social media and write for it as well.

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Audience engagement may seem like a business move to help reach out to consumers, but it’s increased in journalism as well. In her article, “The rise of the reader: journalism in the age of the open web,” Katharine Viner writes about the state of journalists in a free-flowing web and how to adapt to new accountabilities. She writes about a time when the Guardian wrote a piece on Julie Bishop.  Despite being well-written and researched, the headline was misleading and was later re-written with a paragraph in the story explaining why. However, Bishop claimed she was a victim of a “Guardian beat-up” and that the story was exaggerated. Viner explains how the Guardian stood up for themselves:

“We decided to share our version of events with the readers. We published a blog which explained the editorial decisions we had taken, explained why we changed the headline, and published the transcript of Lenore’s interview with Bishop. We then asked our readers what they thought. Many of them told us they were delighted and fascinated by this open approach; that they felt they could trust us more, knowing that we would be transparent.” (Viner, 2013)

Transparency is a key ingredient in being a reliable source of information that attracts readers.

Letter and emails to the editor are a thing of the past with the presence of social media. Readers are now able to write to their favorite journalists via Twitter replies and Facebook comments. According the Associated Press Stylebook, staffers at AP are encouraged to interact with their readers and hear out their opinions and hear their feedback. Which helps explain why from 2012 to 2017 there has been an in increase (74% to 78%) in audience engagement on social media from journalists. However, audience engagement can be troubling in newsrooms. According to Kevin Bakhurst at BBC, there is a danger in what feedback is received “namely that we mistake the squalls on Twitter or the views of ten or 20 vociferous tweeters for the view of the audience as a whole” (Bakhurst, 2011).

REWRITING HEADLINES

In order to help bring in traffic to their employer and their own work, they must share their work on social media to attract readers. Some ways of doing this include writing the most attractive headlines specifically for social media. Traditionally, print headlines have been aided with photos and sub headlines that would make the story more appealing to read. For example, when Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, the New Times headline the next day read “MEN WALK ON MOON.” While this headline would still work for current newspapers, by online standards today it would probably not work. According to Paul Bradshaw, online headlines are meant to follow search engine optimization rules where the headline includes words that search engines like Google can recognize and are placed at the top of the page (Bradshaw, 2012). Journalists are not only expected to write headlines that make search engine optimization possible, but also ensure that the headlines explain enough so that a reader will want to click and read it when scrolling through their feed or timeline. If the New York Times headline were rewritten for the web using Bradshaw’s guidelines, it would probably read something like “Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong become first men to walk on moon.” It may not have the same effect, but with the amount of information available on the web today, a simple headline would probably not appear at the top of searches. According to Bradshaw, the more descriptive the headline the better and makes readers want to read more.

While creative and descriptive headlines help bring in traffic to a website, it also raises other issues in journalism, particularly in the rise of click-bait articles and the content itself. In the article, “Clickbait: The changing face of online journalism,” Ben Frampton describes click-bait articles as, “a headline which tempts the reader to click on the link to the story. But the name is used pejoratively to describe headlines which are sensationalized, turn out to be adverts or are simply misleading.” (Frampton, 2015). Some examples include, “You Won’t Believe What These Child Stars Look Like Today” and “22 Places To Visit On Your Next Vacation.” Websites like Buzzfeed are relatively good at attracting readers with these headlines and are also keen to actually stating what is being said in the headline. Ken Smith, chairman of the Welsh executive council of the National Union of Journalists tells Frampton the repercussions of such articles, “There is a dumbing down in terms of content…Inevitably, if the criterion for including the story on the website is determined by the number of clicks, then we’re going down a very dangerous path” (Frampton, 2015). While not all journalistic work is written with such headlines, many articles shared via social media sites do contain them which could potentially drive some writers to use follow these guidelines.

BREAKING NEWS, SPEED, AND CITIZEN JOURNALISTS

According to the Cision 2017 Global Social Journalism Study, many journalists feel that traditional journalistic values have been impacted by social media.

“The majority of respondents [thought] (77 percent agreed or strongly agreed) that social media was encouraging journalists to focus on speed rather than analysis. These figures suggest that for journalists, social media is having significant impact on their profession altering traditional values and practices.” (Cision, 2017)

While speed is an important part in journalism and has played a role on what stories get told or not, social media has further sped up the process. In her fellowship paper for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism titled “Journalism in the Age of Social Media,” Jennifer Alejandro explains that,

“Journalists are forced to accelerate the traditional journalistic process because people now want real time information. People want the information as soon as the journalist or the media outlet receives it. So to sit on a story until it is complete is to risk being out-scooped by competitors or even worse to be dubbed slow by the public. It is now a necessity to give the audience bits of information at a time, as soon as the information is available” (Alejandro J., p. 9, 2010).

This is caused by the fact that a lot of news stories break via social media sites. While a reporter can be on their desk scooping up details for one story, a breaking story like a mass shooting on a college campus could easily break via Facebook or Snapchat and the reporter would have to lookout for the latest information on that. Meanwhile, the story itself could be developing via tweets or snapchats without written articles being the ones with the updates. Social media not only speeds up the process of what content is written about and the way that news is first broken, but it also changes who does the breaking. The lack of a gatekeeper could potentially make news stories that are irrelevant the topic of most conversations. Which in turn could block out important new stories that would be more relevant to readers. However, according to Dr. Alex Burns, a senior lecturer in the Creative Industries faculty of Queensland University of Technology in Australia, “citizen journalists act primarily as watchdog and corrective for the mainstream. “Participants act as gatewatchers, observing and analyzing what passes through the publication gates of the journalism industry and other official sources, and highlighting interesting and relevant news for their industry”” (Alejandro J., p. 13, 2010).

An example of the role of the citizen journalist with the presence of social media is the role Reddit played on hunting down the suspects for Boston Marathon bombing. When two users began the thread “FindBostonBombers” which helped gather photos, maps, theories, etc. about the possible suspects. While the manhunt wasn’t successful it helped gather information about the suspects that authorities could then use. Kevin Cheetham, one of the men in charge of opening up the investigation on Reddit spoke to TIME magazine about the decision, “Instead of waiting for answers to come to us, we are trying to get them ourselves” (Pickert, K., Sorenson, A. 2013). No longer are people consuming news, but with the help of social media many are becoming the reporters and journalists themselves by seeking out their own facts and information. Further adding to the changing landscape of journalism, social media allows for new ways of seeking sources and stories as the develop. Alejandro cites the 2005 London bombings as one of the first times the BBC was bombarded with user-generated content such as videos, photos, and even text messages. This in turn has led to the development of specific departments in charge of gathering content produced by people via social media websites.

“Today, the BBC has 23 journalists working in a UGC (user generated content) centre to process information, photos and text coming in from the general public. CNN also has a user-generated content site but the branding is separate. iReport is the section of CNN.com where the stories, photos, texts and videos are uploaded by the audience” (Alejandro, J., p. 14, 2010)

While user content has been present before in newspapers and magazines like comic strips, jokes, and even personal stories. Social media has changed it by allowing the user to be a part of the news itself. Often times the first response to a viral tweet or Facebook post is a reporter asking for permission to use the content so it can be used to support a story or to develop one using a certain image or video. News consumers are no longer just readers, but have evolved as content creaters and citizen journalists.

FAKE NEWS

More recent studies concerning social media include the spread of fake news stories. With the help of click-bait articles and the fast-paced speed at which stories are spread, fake news has become a prominent issue due to social media. According to the Cision 2017 Global Social Journalism Study, 51 percent of participants feel that fake news is a serious problem concerning journalism with news, politics and current affairs journalists being most concerned (62 percent). Fake news seemed most prominent during the 2016 presidential election with studies being made correlating the impact of fake news on the way candidates were perceived and the eventual winner (Allcott, H., Gentzkow, M., 2017). While this is important to look at, the fact that people had access to these stories was primarily through social media (Allcott, H., Gentzkow, M., 2017). Some ways that people may be tricked into reading such articles include

“the format of social media—thin slices of information viewed on phones or news feed windows—can make it difficult to judge an article’s veracity” and the fact that most friendships on Facebook are ideologically grouped together:

“among friendships between people who report ideological affiliations in their profiles, the median share of friends with the opposite ideology is only 20 percent for liberals and 18 percent for conservatives—and people are considerably more likely to read and share news articles that are aligned with their ideological positions. This suggests that people who get news from Facebook (or other social media) are less likely to receive evidence about the true state of the world that would counter an ideologically aligned but false story” (Allcott, H., Gentzkow, M., 2017).

Another way that social media affects the presence of fake news is the way that it is talked about. President Donald Trump continuously calls out the media, particularly CNN and MSNBC, as fake news. While the kind of fake news that tricked people into believing false news stories about the candidates were ad-orientated and meant to simply bring traffic into websites (Allcott, H., Gentzkow, M., 2017), the president’s calling out of legitimate news sources via social media has brought a level of disdain towards mainstream media and has been used in favor of discrediting these prominent news organizations. According to Steve Coll of The New Yorker,

“Last week, a Libyan broadcaster cited one of Trump’s tweets about CNN in an attempt to discredit a report by the network on the persistence of slavery in that country. And, when the leader of a nation previously devoted to the promulgation of press freedom worldwide seeks so colorfully to delegitimize journalism, he inevitably gives cover to foreign despots who threaten reporters in order to protect their own power” (Coll, 2018).

Journalists now have to keep in mind that their well-researched stories may be seen as fake due to the president’s comments something that may not have been an issue if  it weren’t for the high use of social media. President Trump’s comments haven’t entirely turned the masses against the media. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other traditional news sources have seen rises in subscription since the election of the president.

While television continues to be the number one way that people get their news and information, the continued use of social media as a channel for receiving use could top it in the years to come. Journalists will have to adapt to the changing landscape brought on by social media such as the rise of fake news, dealing with attracting the most readers with attention grabbing headlines and even dumbing down their content to do so. However, the rise of citizen journalism and an influx of younger readers could help transform the way news is presented.

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Reference List

Alejandro, J. (2010). Journalism in the Age of Social Media. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 3-46. Retrieved December 1, 2017, from https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/research/files/Journalism%2520in%2520the%2520Age%2520of%2520Social%2520Media.pdf.

Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, (2), 211-236. doi:10.3386/w23089

Bakhurst, K. (2012, September 9). The Editors: How has social media changed the way newsrooms work? Retrieved December 13, 2017, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2011/09/ibc_in_amsterdam.html#more

Bradshaw, P. (2015, October 13). 8 common mistakes when writing for the web – and what to do about them {now 9}. Retrieved November 27, 2017, from https://onlinejournalismblog.com/2012/02/28/8-common-mistakes-when-writing-for-the-web-and-what-to-do-about-them/

Belvedere, M. J., & Newberg, M. (2016, November 29). New York Times subscription growth soars tenfold, adding 132,000, after Trump’s win. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from https://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/29/new-york-times-subscriptions-soar-tenfold-after-donald-trump-wins-presidency.html

Canterbury Christ Church University, Cision.  (2017). 2017 Global Social Journalism Study. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/cision-wp-files/us/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/13085602/SJS_Interactive_Final2.pdf

Coll, S. (2017, December 04). Donald Trump’s “Fake News” Tactics. Retrieved December 15, 2017, from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/12/11/donald-trumps-fake-news-tactics

Frampton, B. (2015, September 14). Clickbait: The changing face of online journalism. Retrieved December 1, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-34213693

Mitchell, A., Jurkowitz, M., & Olmstead, K. (2014, March 12). Audience Routes: Direct, Search & Facebook. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from http://www.journalism.org/2014/03/13/audience-routes-direct-search-facebook/

Pickert, K. (2013, April 23). Inside Reddit’s Hunt for the Boston Bombers. Retrieved December 15, 2017, from http://nation.time.com/2013/04/23/inside-reddits-hunt-for-the-boston-bombers/

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (2017, November 03). Apollo 11. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Apollo-11

Viner, K. (2013, October 09). The rise of the reader: journalism in the age of the open web Katharine Viner. Retrieved December 15, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/09/the-rise-of-the-reader-katharine-viner-an-smith-lecture

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