Networked: Social media’s impact on news production in digital newsrooms

This is a piece of research looking within the newsroom to determine the effects social media may have on elements of news production, particularly where it may influence or affect it. Social media does have an impact, but the nature of impact is less known. Research such as this seeks to add to the body of knowledge while noting that it does not claim to be comprehensive or representative of all situations. Being indicative, however, is a valid description.

As well as being a news distribution and broader news sourcing medium, social media is capable of aiding and directly influencing the news process when journalists specifically ‘crowdsource’ (or fish for) news, opinion, commentary and more. Social media has helped some journalists extend their ‘brand’, even outside of their media product’s reach, that can bring with it access to additional media consumers and, of course, potential news sources. Social media has found its place in the media production sphere at all levels, and it can be indispensable to ‘take the temperature’ of a subject or developing story too.

This article examines news production through the hierarchy of influence model, separating journalist activity into various layers for analysis within specific organizational and social contexts. Four primary categories of actors who could affect news production were considered — journalists, opinion leaders, audience and extra-media organizations – as well as the journalistic process itself, featuring content producers, sources and PR agents. Interactions and relationships were viewed, considered, analysed and evaluated. The article is worthy of a read for its nuanced, relevant, and perhaps obvious when you see it in black and white results. Such as one journalist noting an almost-extant filter bubble of their primary network’s making by disclosing: “Social media makes getting sources so much easier, and we can use so many more different sources, but once we find them, it’s the same generally.”

The media world is renowned for being quite incestuous, and with social media it can be even more so as journalists can also act as sources, commenting and questioning on social media, generating discussion and even giving material (often unwittingly) to other journalists and media actors. It is a significantly expanded, public-accessible, potentially international version of the journalist’s bar where discussions could cover everything and everything. Of course, limits exist and the firehose of news and commentary never runs dry, but the quality cannot be guaranteed on many levels.

The article is quite modest with its objectives and conclusions, hiding its utility under a bushel (to amend a popular idiom). No longer does the newsroom always serve the same historical purpose in journalism, as a hub for all, notes the author, observing that the venue of the newsroom is changing in many ways to a virtual affair. Traditional journalist control is also under threat, consider some journalists, reporting that social media is helping ‘force’ them to cover specific stories, but so far the actual words remain mostly (!) in the control of the journalist and the editorial chain.

The takeaway can be that social media and its usage may be changing the face and structure of journalism in ways, slowly over time, that had not been considered before. A worthy read and a thoughtful, but comparatively short piece of work.

Ferrucci, P., 2018. Networked: Social media’s impact on news production in digital newsrooms. Newspaper Research Journal. DOI:10.1177/0739532918761069

A post-publication review of this article that appears on Publons.