The Rise of Social Media and Its Impact on Mainstream Journalism

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WORKING PAPER

e rise of social media and its impact on mainstream journalism:

A study of how newspapers and broadcasters in the UK and US are responding to a wave of participatory social media, and a historic shi in control towards individual consumers.

Nic Newman

September 2009

Contents
Executive summary and key conclusions 1. Framing the debate 2. Mainstream media motivations, doubts and dilemmas 2.1 Definitions and motivations 2.2 BBC 2.3 Guardian and Telegraph 2.4 New York Times 2.5 CNN 2.6 Comparisons of activity 2.7 Lessons and conclusions 3. Changing coverage 3.1 Iranian elections 3.2 G20 case study 4. Changing journalistic practice; telling stories with the audience 4.1 Robert Peston (BBC): Peston’s Picks blog 4.2 Jemima Kiss (Guardian): Twitter and technology 4.3 Additional perspectives on changing journalistic practice

5. The nature and importance of social networks for journalism 5.1 Popularity and usage 5.2 Changing nature of recommendation 5.3 Business models and the future of the social web 6. Conclusions and implications for mainstream organisations Bibliography and acknowledgments

1

Summary
The aftermath of the Iranian elections (June 2009) provided the latest example of how powerful new internet tools like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are changing the way media are produced, distributed and consumed. Usergenerated picture or video scoops regularly lead television bulletins and the front pages of newspapers, whilst a new category of opinionated blogging is redefining the frontiers of journalism itself. This study explores how mainstream media organisations are responding to this wave of participatory and social media, linked with a historic shift in control towards individual consumers. The paper examines how journalists at leading news organisations in the UK and USA are increasingly involving audiences in the way they research and tell stories. It explores the dilemmas and issues raised by greater audience engagement through case-study interviews with leading practitioners and managers, as well as drawing on previously published interviews and research. It looks at how mainstream media coverage of breaking news events is changing, using topical cases studies from the G20 London summit and Iranian street protests. There are six core conclusions from this study: 1. There has been an explosion of participation over the past two years (2007–9), driven by user-friendly internet tools, better connectivity and new mobile devices. Social Networking and UGC have become mainstream activities, accounting for almost 20 per cent of internet time in the UK and involving half of all internet users. This dramatic change has forced traditional news organisations to take note. 2. Social media and UGC are fundamentally changing the nature of breaking news. They are contributing to the compression of the ‘news cycle’ and putting more pressure on editors over what to report and when. News organisations are already abandoning attempts to be first for breaking news, focusing instead on being the best at verifying and curating it. 3. Journalists are beginning to embrace social media tools like Twitter, Blogs and Facebook, but very much on their own terms. ‘Same values, new tools’ sums up the approach in most mainstream organisations as they marry the culture of the web with their own organisational norms. Guidelines are being rewritten; social media editors and twitter correspondents are being appointed; training and awareness programmes are underway. 4. Social media, blogs and UGC are not replacing journalism, but they are creating an important extra layer of information and diverse opinion. Most people are still happy to rely on mainstream news organisations to sort fact from fiction and serve up a filtered view, but they are increasingly engaged by this information, particularly when recommended by friends or another trusted source. 5. Historically, participation in mainstream sites has focused on...
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