You are here

U.S. Journalists Attitudes towards Using Twitter

The next speaker at ECREA 2016 is Svenja Ottovordemgentschenfelde, whose focus is on journalists' activities on Twitter. The platform has now been widely adopted by news organisations, and journalists are under considerable pressure to use it to break news, disseminate content, and engage with peers and audiences. None of these pressures are inherently new, but Twitter enables new approaches to engaging in these practices.

Svenja interviewed some 26 journalists in the United States, with a majority aged 44 or below. These reported that there are now often explicit social media policies that mandate the use of social media, and perhaps also outline the uses of social media that the organisation believes to be desirable; there is also still some scope for journalists to experiment and develop their own approaches.

There is also increasing use of social media analytics tools that track journalists' and their stories' social media performance, and this is at times used to assess the impact of news workers and direct their future activities. Audience responses therefore have an increasing impact on the future direction of journalistic work; some journalists now care more about such metrics than about how their stories are placed in the newspaper or TV bulletin.

But the performance of journalism is also highly situational: during breaking news events journalists are following different rhythms than during ordinary news days. Especially during election campaigns and similar major events there are now multiple overlapping news cycles, and strategies for driving audience engagement become very obvious. Journalists also have very different imaginaries of how social media may be used in their work; many describe Twitter as an early warning system or a modern wire service, but also as a digital notepad to record unfolding developments that can subsequently serve as the starting-point for a more detailed story.

Journalists have a certain fear of missing out if they are not present on Twitter; nonetheless there is some variation in how much time they spend on the platform. There is a dynamic between gaining and losing competitive advantage, too: Twitter can be used to break a news story, but this also means giving away a scoop that can no longer be fully exploited with a larger story. There are similarly concerns about missteps, at the same time that journalists see a strong social media profile as a career asset.

There is then a shared uncertainty over what really works, and no common vision about where things are really going. Journalists are also concerned about the trade-off between the quantity of audience engagement and the quality of journalistic content, and highlight the potential for echo chambers to form on social media platforms. Finally, social media management is often approached by news organisations with a top-down perspective, and the focus on social media analytics may counteract the traditional autonomy of journalistic research and coverage.