Is social media going to be the death or the rescuer of digital journalism?

How does the use of social media affect today’s journalism? That’s what I’m going to discuss in this blogpost.

My name is Sarah Rätzer, and I’m a 30-year old journalist from Sweden. I’m currently studying journalism and communication at Bond University on the Gold Coast, on the other side of the world.

That wouldn’t have been possible without the innovation of the internet. I researched different universities all over the world via the internet and then applied to my favourite one, Bond, through a study abroad organisation in Sweden via the internet. I also applied for my visa, got my insurance and booked my flight ticket via the internet. All of this we take for granted today, but 30 years ago before the internet had diffused into our everyday life, this would have been much more complicated.

It takes 30 years for an innovation to become a standard technology, according to the technological forecaster Paul Saffo, so I’m happy I’m studying now and not 30 years ago. (Shirley, 2007)

I’ve been working as a reporter at the local newspaper Sydöstran in my home town in Sweden for the last few years. However, last year I felt like I wanted to do something else for a while and also learn something new. Therefore I thought studying abroad would be perfect for me.

I am what the management consultant Peter Drucker would call a knowledge worker. Not a boss but not a worker either, rather something in between whose mission is to think for a living. People these days don’t stay at the same job during their entire career like they did back in the days. People today want to change jobs, change cities and even countries, and to keep the talent companies have to agree with this and keep their doors open, according to the survey: Thinking for a living which was published in The Economist (2006). Just like my boss at the newspaper who let me fly to the other side of the world to study. He will benefit from this, though, because when I get back, I will have even more knowledge that I can share with the newspaper and my colleagues.

When I first started my job at the newspaper, I worked as a web reporter responsible for both publishing articles digitally and managing our social media channels. A lot of work for just one person if you ask me, especially considering how important social media is today.

I noticed that the articles I put on Facebook got a lot more clicks than the articles I didn’t publish there. When I looked at the statistics of how people accessed our articles, Facebook drove a lot of traffic to our site. Most people still accessed our articles through our web site, but Facebook was the second-largest source of traffic, way more effective than, for example, Google.

Despite this, I had to fight for the use of social media at the newspaper, against people who weren’t comfortable using it and therefore didn’t want to. I understand that it can be scary when this new way of working gets introduced in your workplace if you don’t understand it.

However, sometimes you have to embrace new things if you know that they are good for you and your job. Facebook is part of the technoculture within digital journalism today. Meaning that we use the technology of Facebook to create and spread our news, among other things. The culture of Facebook with words like Facerape, which means to hijack another person’s account and the technology of Facebook has been synonymous and also a natural part of today’s society (Green, 2002).

Photo by: Gerd Altmann.

People who don’t want to be a part of that has what sociologist Everett M. Rogers would call a hypercritical and pessimistic stance towards this new way of work. That is, that they see Facebook usage at work as leading to a disaster (Rogers, 1986).

They were claiming that it would take too much time away from other work tasks and “it isn’t in the job description”. Well, I think it should be, because we know how important, for example, Facebook is today. It has over 2,4 billion users monthly, and it’s the most prominent social network worldwide, according to statistics from Statista from 2019. We also know that a lot of people read their news there, which tells us that we, of course, want to have our news there (Gramlich, 2019).

Semiotician Daniel Chandler would call these people who are against social media use at the workplace technological determinists. This means that they believe that new technologies, Facebook, in this case, would radically change their job and their way of thinking. I think that it’s we who would change our job and our way of thinking by using Facebook. We rule the technology, the technology doesn’t rule us. This makes me more of a socio-culturalist, according to Chandler (1996).

There’s more challenges in using social media within digital journalism. People want to read news for free, so they tend to get angry if we post articles with a paywall on Facebook, even if we write in the post that it’s a paywall-article. They don’t seem to understand that journalists also want to get paid for their work.

Our readers can also comment on our Facebook-posts which can be a problem if they write offensive or racist things. This has happened many times when I have been working. It’s a good thing that our readers can interact with us instead of us just publishing articles without any feedback or contact. It can also be problematic because we as a newspaper don’t want to be connected to that. Neither do we want our readers to feel bad when they see our Facebook posts. However, this is a part of the social convergence within journalism, which we have to accept. Back in the days the newspapers were publishing articles for their readers who were only able to receive the information. Now the readers can post comments on the newspapers social media pages, rate the newspaper on Facebook and also share their articles. Today everyone can publish anything, anywhere. That is what journalism professor Henry Jenkins calls participatory culture (2006).

This brings us to another problem area within journalism and social media, fake news. When everyone is a publisher, how can we know that what people publish is true? We could of course look up the source and check its credibility and use google to see if any other web pages have the same information. But it’s tricky these days to know for sure. Especially with today’s technique which even makes it possible to do so called deep fakes. That is videos of people saying things they have never said, made possible by artificial intelligence. Facebook is doing a raid against deep fakes before the Us election of 2020, which I think is very important. These videos look very real and could change people’s opinions regarding who they vote for, which isn’t good for democracy. (Hern, 2020)

Social media is here to stay, and we will probably encounter more problems in the future when both social media and digital journalism are evolving.

Journalism is facing a tough future, with fewer subscribers and people not willing to pay for digital news. I think we have to come up with a way to use social media more effectively within digital journalism, to help save it. 

Paul Bradshaw that runs the blog onlinejournalismblog.com is writing that Artificial intelligence could help journalists figure out what, when and how to publish on social media, with the help of algorithms. Several companies are already doing this according to the blog (Bradshaw, 2019), and I think this could be a big help for the future of journalism.

The Artificial intelligence could figure out when it’s most effective to publish a news article and in which social media channel to publish to give the best possible traffic because now we’re only guessing. Or we look at statistics and then act but with artificial intelligence algorithms, we could analyse so much more data and statistics, so much faster.

Then social media journalists can concentrate on building relationships with the audience and also figure out how to cope with the fact that a lot of social media users mostly use the chat function. Because today we don’t get any traffic from people just using the chat function on for example Instagram. That is another possible platform that could be explored in the future.

How do you think we can use social media to help save the digital journalism? Write your suggestions in the comments!

Want to know more about the blogger? Click here!

References

Biagi Shirley (2007) Media/Impact An introduction to Mass Media. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth

Bradshaw Paul (2019, June 22) FAQ: How has social media changed journalism – and what does the future hold? Online journalism. https://onlinejournalismblog.com/2019/06/22/faq-how-has-social-media-changed-journalism-instagram/

Chandler Daniel (January, 1996) Engagement with media: Shaping and being shaped. Retrieved from: http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/short/determ.html?LMCL=VtZnX6

Clement J. (2020, Jan 30) Number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide as of 4th quarter 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/264810/number-of-monthly-active-facebook-users-worldwide/

Gramlich John (2019, May 16) 10 facts about Americans and Facebook. Retrieved from: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/05/16/facts-about-americans-and-facebook/

Green, L. R. (2002). Technoculture: from alphabet to cybersex. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin

Hern Alex (2020, Jan 7) Facebook bans ‘deepfake’ videos in run-up to US election. The Guardian. URL: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jan/07/facebook-bans-deepfake-videos-in-run-up-to-us-election

Jenkins Henry (2006, June 19) Welcome to convergence culture. Retrieved from: http://henryjenkins.org/2006/06/welcome_to_convergence_culture.html

Rogers M. Everett (1986) Communication Technology. New York: The Free Press
The Economist Intelligence Unit N.A., Incorporated. Survey: Thinking for a living. Jan 21, 2006

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