Understanding the new networked architectures of journalism

I was the respondent for a research panel on the new networked architectures of news at the 2015 ICA annual conference in Puerto Rico. Here are my comments.

Thank you for the opportunity to read these papers and contribute to this stellar panel on conceptualizing the uses of social media in journalism.

Journalists and audiences often studied as two sides of the same coin. Increasingly though, a more nuanced approach has emerged — to consider how journalists and audiences interact in a hybrid media space. They are on the same side of the coin, as it were.

The papers presented here reflect this — furthering an understanding of this new “networked architecture of journalism.” Collectively, they are mapping out the dimensions of research, going beyond just considering the actors and platforms involved. But also considering intentions, expectations and experiences. It is imperative to gain a broader understanding of audience intentions, expectations and experiences in such spaces when it comes to journalism.

Such research is much-needed as social media grows as a space for the circulation, filtering and distribution of news and information. Just consider Facebook’s new Instant Articles which has stories from news organisations appearing natively within Facebook itself — the ultimately unbundling of the newspaper.

Friends as editors

The first paper by David Domingo et al, Normative Ideals vs. Actual Daily Practices: A Reality-Check on Audience Participation and Social Media in Spanish Online News Websites, addresses this very issue — the unbundling of the news from the original publication. It is both striking and hardly surprising that most people get news recommendations from friends. I found the same in a similar study published three years ago of Canadian new consumers. At the time, though, only 40% got their news from friends.

An area for further research here is the impact of audiences incurating and framing news content through social networks. The intriguing prospect here is how collective social media choices could have a much greater impact than the what we used to call citizen journalism. When our friends are our editors, what is the impact on what makes the news and how the news is understood?

Understanding audience motivations

Wiebke Loosen et al pick up on this theme in Which for What? Uses of Social Media in the View of Journalists and Audience Members, highlighting the need for a multi-dimensional approach. The value in this study is revealing how newsrooms conceive of social media spaces compared to the what audiences do.

What I particularly welcome here is how the paper considers the intentions for participation. We see how audiences view participation as a form of self-expression — a way to share an opinion or highlight what is important to them. There is scope for more work in terms of the motivations for participation compared to the approaches in newsrooms. Arguably the approach to participation has been largely driven by the norms of the newsroom rather than by an understanding of audience needs and expectations.

Practice to be shared

This comes across in one of the projects studied in the paper presented by Anita van Hoof, Living in Two Worlds: Role Taking of Participatory Journalists. Participants are framed as expert sources to support the journalist, rather than as collaborators in crafting the narrative. I was struck here by how the participants took on this role willing — It made me wonder how far this was learnt behaviour — in the sense that if journalists approach them as sources, they will them act as sources as that is what is expected of them

The other project reflects more than role of journalist as facilitator that emerged in the research I did on Andy Carvin with Seth Lewis and Rodrigo Zamith. Here, it is less about journalism as a profession to be defended but as a practice to be shared.

But in both projects, it is clear that the participants expected not just to be heard, but to be acknowledged. Perhaps getting your name in the paper is not enough of an acknowledgement anymore, now that publication is no longer an exclusive club. This paper suggests that there is a expectation for much greater reciprocity between journalist and audience.

The drama of instantaneity

Matthias Revers hints at the potential for reciprocity on Twitter in his paper, Participatory Journalism and Transformative Events: Covering the Same-Sex Marriage Debate on Twitter. It seems far from obvious that such an idea has been embraced by the journalists he studied. I was struck by how just 1.5% of their tweets involved interactions with the public.

What is more interesting in the paper is the focus on how events can act as catalyst for innovation and change in journalism. I remember back in 2005, when I was still at the BBC, how the July 7 bombings in London changed newsroom attitudes to social media, which I related in my book, Tell Everyone.

Matthias highlights how one event — the vote for same-sex marriage in New York State — shifted attitudes to Twitter, particularly with journalists seeing the value of live tweeting the story.

How an event becomes more than news through constant live updates is a fascinating area for research. It’s the drama of instantaneity as Papacharissi and de Fatima Oliveira put it. The breathless and at times emotive reporting by journalists around the same-sex marriage vote does raise an interesting research question about live tweeting the news: How far are these reporters not just hyping up a news event, but then buying into the hype itself? Was the reporting appropriate and commensurate with the story itself? How does that relate to long-standing and contested values of objectivity and “just the facts?”

I recommend that you read all the papers as the presentations necessarily only provide a taste of the work. Thank you for listening.

Alfred Hermida’s award-winning new book, Tell Everyone: Why We Share and Why It Matters, is available now in the US and UK, published by DoubleDay Canada.

Author of award-winning Tell Everyone: Why We Share and Why It Matters. UBC School of Journalism director, digital media scholar and online BBC news pioneer.

Author of award-winning Tell Everyone: Why We Share and Why It Matters. UBC School of Journalism director, digital media scholar and online BBC news pioneer.