The social media effect

The convergence from print to online, advances in technology and citizen journalists have all impacted mainstream journalism. But how much has social media in particular made a difference? Based on my own naivety and closed mind to journalism before the internet, I rarely considered the effects of twitter, facebook and other social networking sites on hard journalism.

As suggested by Nic Newman in his social media study (2009), there are three main ways that social media have changed journalism:

  1. Telling better stories: there is always someone who knows more than you do, news organisations are crowd sourcing comments, pictures, videos insights and ideas.
  2. Making better relationships: Engaged users tend to be more loyal and spend more time, making them more valuable to advertisers or for promoting and selling other company services.
  3. Getting new users in: With audiences spending more and more time with social networks, these have become the obvious place to look for the ‘hard to reach’ or reconnect with former loyalists.

All of which paint a promising future for mainstream journalism. The Evening Standard website is home to many regulars in the comment sections, ASHLEY BOGLE-FRIMPONG being one of many who frequently comments on the site. I would however argue that regulars would have an adverse effect on anyone new to commenting – as if to protect their online territory. I would also add that although broadened debates are positive on a surface level, they can cause legal problems for the paper, require strict regulation and anonymous comments can encourage readers to be abusive.

Selection of regular and anonymous comments on a story about knife crime

Newspapers have room for these diverse voices, opinions and arguments. But what about the BBC? If impartiality is their core value, can they ever be compatible with social media? Former BBC chief news correspondent, Kate Adie, famously described blogs to be ‘amateurish, filled with errors and not credible,’ ‘egotistical nonsense’ and that ‘journalists shouldn’t have time to blog, there are too many stories waiting to be told.’

In some respects I understand her anger with bloggers, stereotypically faking it until they make it. But in an industry so saturated in competition, those who want to make it don’t have a choice but to get themselves out there. The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about after all.

In spite of Adie’s views, an overwhelming majority of the BBC and its audiences encouraged User Generated Content (UGC). Over 70 per cent believed it improved quality and authenticity and 61 per cent felt it was good for the public to be involved.

The media savvy Guardian newspaper agreed:

“For the last 10 years or so we lived with this notion that we knew everything and handed out the pearls of wisdom to the people lucky enough to receive them. If you can invert that and actually say that the expertise lives outside the newspaper, on some many subjects they know more than we do. The moment you can get that thought in your head, then you realise that there is great treasure in these commentaries.” Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian.

Do you think social media is an important development for mainstream journalism? Newman explains that high profile changes are being made to standards, guidelines and training, so could this mean a change to the way the BBC is run? Let me know your views in the comment section below.


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