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Capturing Journalistic Practices and Norms in the Digital Age

In my research on journalism and emerging media, I am often asked to answer questions about the fast changing nature and uses of social media. How can researchers capture the constantly changing uses and nature of social media of journalists across time? And how can we use this knowledge to help academics, students, and practitioners adapt to the fast changing media world? These are two important questions that Monika Djerf-Pierre, Marina Ghersetti, and Ulrika Hedman (from the Institutionen för journalistik, medier och kommunikation) answered in a recent article.

In their article, titled “Appropriating Social Media. The changing uses of social media among journalists across time”, Djerf-Pierre, Ghersetti, and Hedman examined a number of pertinent questions: To what extent do journalists use social media, and how has the usage changed across time? How are the changing uses of social media related to journalists’ personal (age, gender) and organizational (type of work, workplace location, workplace) identities and positions? And which social media affordances do journalists recognize and value, and how does the valuation change across time?

In 2012 and 2014, the authors conducted a web survey with Swedish journalists. They found that journalistic usage of social media increased slightly in the two years between their studies. However, they argued that “some early adopters were abandoning social media, and there was a noticeable decline in the journalists’ valuation of social media affordances.” These are important findings that show how journalistic uses of social media vary through time.

My colleagues (Colin Agur and Nick Frisch) and I have also found similar results in our study of chat apps. To build on the survey findings of Djerf-Pierre et al. we conducted in-depth interviews. Our findings suggest that during crises, citizens tend to contribute more user-generated content, and journalists tend to use social media more to gather on-the-ground sources first account of the events. I made a similar argument in my book Social Media at BBC News: The Re-Making of Crisis Reporting (Routledge, 2015). FirstDraftNews, too, has done a marvellous job documenting journalistic uses of social media in crises.

Several factors influence the type and level of journalistic uses of chat apps during political unrest. For example, journalists who have strong knowledge of the subject matter and context (e.g. geography, culture, and language) will have advantages over journalists who have flown in to report a story. Large organizations offer advantages to their journalists: they have in-house technical teams and a collaborative approach to chat app networks. Large organizations use these advantages to maximize the institutional benefits of network effects. This is an important finding that we will reveal more in our final report.

To learn more about our upcoming report, join Colin Agur and me at the 2016 International Journalism Festival panel titled The good, the bad and the ugly: roadmap to mobile technologies and digital journalism. We will talk about how mobile journalism is changing the ways reporters and audiences produce news. We will explore the ways mobile technology is used in news production, as well as the limits and privacy and security issues associated with it.

(co-written with Colin Agur, Yale University)