Social media has had a huge impact on the way that journalism is practiced and the way that the general public perceive news in the present day.
This dissertation aims to identify and explore the use of the different social media platforms, focusing on the impact that the rise of social media has had on journalism practices. In addition, this paper will examine the public’s responses to the news that they receive through social media platforms. Examples of social media platforms that this dissertation will include are; ‘Twitter’, ‘Facebook’ and ‘YouTube’ as scholars claim that these are the most frequently used sites in the 21st century.
This research has been conducted due to the fact that some researchers have claimed that ‘journalism is dying’ whilst others have argued that ‘journalism is not dying but is simply evolving’ (Blatchford: 2014). This has been a much contested debate triggered by the decline of news circulation from traditional news sources i.e. newspapers, television and radio together with the technological advances of the internet and social media (Cub Reporters: 2010). This has raised many questions and firstly, this dissertation will assess whether the rise of social media has led to the decline of news circulation from traditional news sources. Secondly, this paper will look at what the advantages and disadvantages of using social media as a news distributor are for professional journalists and the general public. Lastly, this study aims to investigate the future of professional journalism practices as a result of the increase of what is known as ‘citizen media’ or ‘citizen journalism’ on social media platforms.
If we begin by acknowledging the famous quote by social media expert Clay Shirky stating that ‘Journalism is going to survive. I just don’t see how the businesses that have provided it will survive’ (Bo bi: 2013) the researcher is made aware that there has been speculation as to whether or not the journalism industry will subsist the recent technological advances. This ‘journalism’ that Shirky is referring to is the reporting of news, he is implying that in the present age, mainstream or traditional news providers may not be able to withstand the uprising of social media.
In addition, in Skoler’s 2009 study (cited in Levy: 2010: 5) the author describes traditional news as being outdated by a new culture of ‘information sharing, connection and the collective insight of different voices passing along direct experience’ that social media has presented. This supports Shirky’s argument that traditional news services may not survive and Levy agrees that ‘traditional news depended heavily on the same specialists and professionals’ and explains that this resulted in the traditional guardians of news falling behind which subsequently led to ‘a reduced circulation and usage of standard platforms for content distribution’ (Levy: 2010:5).
However, although traditional means of reporting may be ‘dying’ so to speak, since the introduction of the World Wide Web (also known as the internet) at the end of the twentieth century, engagement with news through social media and other online mediums became more dominant for both the general public and journalism practitioners. John Pavlik (2001) calls this ‘a new form of journalism’ highlighting that the internet presented much prized features such as; ‘access to universal information, speedy reporting, interactivity, multimedia content, and the ability to customize content’ that changed both Journalists and the general public’s lives forever.
Furthermore, Pavlik adds that this signifies an ‘improved form of journalism’ as the internet has the ability to ‘reengage an audience that is slowly becoming increasingly mistrusting and estranged as time goes on’ (Pavlik: 2001:217). At the same time, Pavlik notes that ‘new media has presented many threats to the most treasured values and standards of journalism. Authenticity of content, source verification, truth and accuracy are all factors that have been deliberated in a medium where everyone with access to a modem and a computer can become a universal publisher’ (Pavlik: 2001).
Defining social media
The expression ‘social media’ or ‘social networking’ that the researcher is referring to can be accredited to Chris Shipley, the co-founder of ‘Guidewire Group’, a San Francisco based business that investigates and collects information on ‘technology trends.’ The title is used to describe tools or services that allow participation and the communication of information online. Some examples of social media include ‘Blogs, social networking sites, wikis, podcasting, video casting, virtual worlds and social bookmarking’ (Newson, Houghton and Patten: 2009: 49).
Social media users are able to share, like, recommend or leave a comment on one another’s posts, henceforth forming an online community or virtual reality as of such. Nevertheless, although the original purpose of social media platforms was for social interaction they have become important sources for information and this paper will explore the threat that this poses to traditional journalism.
There was a time when Journalism was acknowledged as a respected profession, however today it is regarded as a trivial occupation even by some professional journalists. One even described it as ‘a dead end business’ and another described a career as a reporter as ‘laughable’ (Debose: 2014). This is a result of how technological advances have changed the face of both print and broadcast journalism and can be connected with the rise of citizen reporting which the researcher will expand on later. Before the creation of social media news reports were only circulated by paid, qualified professionals whose jobs were to seek out news stories and present the ‘truth’ to the general public.
This literature review will explore the views of different scholars on the impact that social media has had on the journalism profession and the audiences who receive the news.
1. Impact of social media on Journalism
Defining the journalist
Social media has altered the way that the public understands journalism and has changed ideas of what a journalist is. According to Burns (2013) some online dictionaries have even gone as far as to expand their definition of who may claim the title of a ‘journalist.’ For example Dictionary.com, which claims to be the most trusted online dictionary, states that a journalist falls under the following two categories:
a) A person who practices the occupation or profession of journalism
b) A person who keeps a journal, diary or other record of daily events
Burns argues that the distinction was traditionally made between those who wrote for themselves (the journal keepers) and those who wrote for an audience (the professionals). However, in the present day, it is difficult to apply this distinction because of the rise of the internet and social media, many individuals are able to reach global audiences on different matters without being qualified journalists. Therefore, this definition would also include bloggers and other web journals, many Facebook users and daily tweeters.
Nonetheless, Andrew Keen (2007:46 cited in Burns: 2013) argues that a journalist is defined by more than simply someone who has access to an audience Keen states that ‘the simple ownership of a computer and Internet connection does not transform you into a serious journalist any more than having access to a kitchen makes one a serious cook’ (Burns:2013:20).
In addition, other scholars agree that bloggers and other ‘journal keepers’ are not journalists, Lehmann (2006)as cited by Burns is particularly cynical stating that bloggers do not comply to the codes of ethics and practice set down for ‘professional journalists’ and are not associated with professional organizations (Burns: 2013: 21), therefore they should not be classified as journalists. In support of both Keen and Lehmann’s stances, Pavlik (1998:14 cited in Burns: 2013) adds that media ownership is obliged legally to act sensibly and serve in the public’s interest. This obligation ensures that journalists use their power for the good of societies and not simply for entertaining audiences and makes them more trustworthy. As self-publishers do not need to comply with this rule they are free to write what they want without being held accountable. This allows them to make errors without having to face the consequences. In the words of Andrew Keen ‘Bloggers don’t go to jail for their work, journalists do’ (Burns:2013:21).
The rise of the internet and social media platforms has changed journalism forever. By allowing audiences to participate social media platforms have blurred the lines between those who distribute news and those who receive it. Not only are users of the web able to both produce and consume content, they are able to modify their online news experience to understand global events while maintaining a desire for quality reporting and reliable information. Burns (2013) states that ‘we have moved from an era of transmission to one of conversation.’ For example media audiences do not want to wait to receive information but ‘they want to interact with it in real-time using mobile technologies.’ Furthermore Burns argues that ‘interactive social networks are the preferred means of communication and ‘wisdom of many’ is preferred over the wisdom of the ‘expert” (Burns 2013:17). Levy refers to a ground-breaking study in 1949 stating that in the past ‘gatekeeping was the most significant indicator of the journalist’s occupational power as the responsibility of the news professional is to gather, prioritize, and then contextualise the flow of information to consumers. However as online content becomes increasingly user-generated, journalists are under pressure to re-examine this role’ (Levy: 2010:10).
Today, many professional journalists share their personal opinions with audiences as freely as their ‘professional’ ones via social media platforms (Burns, 2013: 20). This has distorted the lines between professional and personal viewpoints and journalists fear that ‘by becoming too personal on social media their work may be viewed as advocacy’ and not journalism (Burns: 2013: 79). Reporters at the Wall Street journal are advised not to discuss any unpublished articles, planned or attended meetings or interviews conducted with employees or sources (Burns: 2013:78). As ‘journalists who share their personal opinions, whether on Dow Jones sites or on the larger Web, whilst also expressing biased political views are open to criticism and this could disqualify reporters from covering topics in the future for Dow Jones’ (Lasica:2009 as cited by Burns:2013:79). Burns cites Betancourt (2009) who suggests that this shows that reporters are not ‘tabula rasa’ or impartial and if online journalists are not seen to be objective or have obvious biases the public could loose respect for them or the companies they work for. In turn, this could be part of the reason why ‘newspapers are losing their readers and significance in the digital age’ (Burns: 2013:79).