I will soon finish my Bachelor thesis. (And if I repeat this sentence often enough it will become true! 🙂 ) I would like to share some of my scientific insights with you. This way this thesis which steals my time and brain capacity for blogging is at least good for something. I am exploring the relationship between journalism and social media. Social media in my definition are all internet-based applications that serve the interaction, connection and relationship building of people. The most common are of course the social network Facebook and the microblogging platform Twitter. But I also include comments or forums on journalistic websites into my work.
I was interested in the question why journalists use social media. What is it good for? What about the disadvantages? I interviewed five professional journalists who work for different media of the public service broadcasting and private newspapers. I won’t mention names here but I was really glad to win them for my thesis because they are all very skilled journalists who were willing to deliberate the topic of social media in all its aspects. Here are in very brief and non-scientific words my three main findings:
1. Journalists use Social Media to create a platform for user-discussions
This is of course quite obvious because it’s the distinct feature of social media that they allow people to utter their opinion in public (in form of comments) and discuss with other users. But why do journalists want to have these discussions about their content? We all know how … well, lively these discussions on Facebook or Twitter get. Because there are these people who are called “trolls” who love to insult (for example), it becomes necessary for journalists to moderate comments, which costs a lot of time. Time is money and also capacity for writing a good article, for doing good journalism. Which is in the first place their job. Some of the journalists told me straight away how unpleasant this task is for them, how they are insulted and so on. This is why most media source it out to special community departments or “social media shifts”.
So it seems like a disadvantage for journalists to allow these discussions, right? But on the contrary, they do even provoke them by asking questions to their users. They do so because they think discussions in itself are valuable. “Freedom of Speech is the foundation of our democracy”, said one journalist. Everyone should have the right to say what he thinks, as long as he doesn’t break the law or discriminates others. By discussing things, people form an opinion. Normative motives are therefore a reason for journalists to use social media.
2. Journalism can improve with the input of Social Media Users
Social media also function as a feedback channel for journalists. The uses and disadvantages of the direct connection to their users were estimated by all journalists as fifty-fifty. Again it’s the trolls who are responsible for the disadvantages (insults and stealing time). But apart from that journalists also get helpful tips, like indications of mistakes or additional information. According to all journalists I spoke to, social media are a great source of information, a quick and also unconventional way to find stories, connect to interesting people and so on. “It is a good seismometer for people’s moods”, one journalist told me. So reporting can be much closer to the people that it is made for (although satisfying the mood of people is of course not the aim of journalism!).
3. Journalists use Social Media to be (still) relevant
With information being available everywhere and any time on the internet, traditional journalism looses importance as the primary information source of people. Therefore, it has to adapt. Journalists have to go where the people are: to social media. Social media increase the coverage of journalistic content. They are THE way to reach people – and also a different audience, which means mostly the younger people who don’t read printed newspapers of watch news on TV anymore. For private media companies, social media are a way to strengthen their brand, to be “present in people’s heads” as one journalist put it. But also the public-service broadcasters want to reach as much people as possible because of their public remit. Altogether, in order to be relevant in the face of digitization and changing media use of people, social media is a must-do for journalists. But it also increases the pressure on journalists, increases the stress as the process of publishing news is getting faster and faster.
So, what will be my conclusion? I don’t know because I didn’t write it yet. 😉 But certainly one insight is that with social media (like the whole internet) there is no black and white – almost all aspects that make it useful also have their disadvantages.