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Industrial Journalism

Some New Publications

It’s been some time since I last posted an update on my latest publications – though you may have seen that on the front page of this site, I’ve updated the banner of the most recent books I’ve been featured in, at last. There is quite a lot more work in the pipeline for the immediate future, including a major new collection which I’ve edited with colleagues in Norway and Sweden – more on that soon.

For now, though, you wouldn’t go wrong if you started by checking out the new journal Social Media + Society, which I’m delighted to be involved in as a member of the Editorial Board. We launched issue 1.1 with a collection of brief manifesto pieces that outline why the study of social media and their impacts on society is so important, featuring many leading researchers in this emerging field. And what’s more, the whole journal is open access! For what it’s worth, here’s my contribution:

Axel Bruns. “Making Sense of Society through Social Media.Social Media + Society 1.1 (2015). DOI: 10.1177/2056305115578679.

Along similar lines, my QUT Digital Media Research Centre colleagues and I have also continued our critical engagement with social media and ‘big data’ research methods and approaches, which has resulted in two new book chapters recently.

Regional and National News Commenting Practices in Finland

The final speaker at ECREA 2014 is Veera Kangaspunta, who notes the importance of studying the audience behind online news comments. Traditionally, journalists have seen online news as a sideshow to the real news business, and online comments are thus a sideshow to the sideshow – but this is changing. While the quality of online commentary is often limited, and discussions may drift, they may be studied to reveal a great deal more about audience attitudes.

Online News Commentary Patterns in Sweden

The next presenters in this ECREA 2014 session are Susanne Almgren and Tobias Olsson, who continue the theme of user comments on online news. Digital media offer new forms of co-existence between producers and users; indeed, there is a new media ecology of participation emerging.

User-generated content has always played a part even in traditional media, of course, in the form of letters to the editor or telephone call-ins. The current environment simply makes such harnessing of user-generated content a great deal easier. Online newspapers are a particularly interesting case for this, given their long institutional history.

How Users Comment on Danish News Organisations' Facebook Pages

The next speakers at ECREA 2014 are Jannie Møller Hartley and Mads Kæmsgaard Eberholst, who examine how users are now intervening in journalistic processes. Their approach is a quantitative content analysis of seven Facebook pages of different Danish mainstream media outlets. Data collection was in real time to avoid subsequent moderation, and this resulted in 149 posts and 3,800 comments over one week, which were coded manually.

Newspapers mostly posted news items on their Facebook pages, focussing on domestic issues and politics. Items came largely from internal reporting, not from agencies. Most content was posted on weekdays, and the publishing rate varied widely between pages. Some 49% of posts were neutral news updates, 30% asked questions, 11% were ironic; questions generated the longest comment threads, followed by ironic comments and neutral updates.

Whither Photojournalism in Spain?

Up next at ECREA 2014 are Virginia Guerrero and Bella Palomo. They begin by noting that mobile phones are now omnipresent and can become tools for a form of pocket journalism that transforms audiences into potential creators of journalistic content. This takes place against the backdrop of funding declines in the mainstream media, and has raised questions about the continuing need for professional photojournalists.

Even as photojournalists are being laid off, then, the importance of images in journalism continues to increase. Does this jeopardise the profession of photojournalism? The project conducted interviews with 12 Spanish photojournalists at local, regional, national, and international levels.

The photojournalists noted the change to their profession. As soon as journalists are being asked to take photos as well, this trespasses on their field; but they also note the fact that photojournalists are often self-trained and have no formal professional association that might represent their interests. They feel the current crisis to be worse than any before, and many of them are beginning to make alternative plans or are taking on increasingly more dangerous assignments abroad, especially in conflict zones.

Why German Audiences Don't Use Participatory Features

Well, after all that, the final ECREA 2014 session starts with Nele Heise, whose project examined conceptions of the audience at German news media. There are increasing forms of audience participation at German news sites, but only a minority of users regularly engage with such media. Do such features represent an interactive illusion?

The project used online surveys, interviews with journalists and audience members, and analyses of journalistic content. It found notable differences in the percentage of non-users across the different formats: the print services saw more engagement. This may also be due to their own outreach activities to users, as well as the visibility of participatory features on their sites.

Commenting on UK News Organisations' Facebook Pages

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Iñaki Garcia-Blanco, whose focus is on discussing the news on social media, and specifically on Facebook. This is important given the perceived crisis of democracy, which requires greater levels of deliberation. Social media bring together access to the news and facilities for discussing it, and Facebook is increasingly important in this.

The research examined the news stories published by leading UK news sources on their official Facebook pages over the course of a single working week (some 1650 articles in total). Human interest and lifestyle stories were strongest in numbers, while commenting on international politics was disproportionately strong.

Tracking News Use in Flanders through a Unified Media ID

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Kristin van Damme, whose interest is in the news media repertoire used by audiences. Audience activities across multiple platforms are a challenge to news publishers, which in Flanders have begun to introduce a unified Media ID audience tracking system across multiple news sites; this covers the entire Flemish news ecosystem.

The Passion in New Journalistic Models

The final speakers in the ASMC14 session is by Tamara Witschge and Mark Deuze. Tamara begins by noting her skepticism about the current state of journalism, and highlights the fact that many journalists are highly reluctant to work as freelancers outside of the conventional newsroom – yet those journalists who do work as freelancers often say that they would not go back to an institutional setting.

This is a question relating to the social dimension of news production, of course. New models challenge the conceptualisation of what is news, who produces it, and what it is for; new news startups show remarkable passion and innovation in rethinking the idea of news, and do not necessarily work with conventional conceptualisations of journalism. Tamara's and Mark's project aims to gain insight into such new organisations.

Journalists' Reluctance to Engage with New Media

The final day at ASMC14 starts with Chris Anderson, who begins with noting the strange, halting, and unexpected adoption of new digital tools in journalism; there has been treat reluctance to engage with some technologies, while others have been adopted much more quickly. For example, the New York Times has one of the best data journalism operations in the business, but on the other hand only began to hyperlink to other sites about a year ago – why this strange imbalance?

This likely has something to do with professional culture and attitudes in journalism, deeply embedded with journalists' own understanding of how they maintain their cultural authority. Journalism arises from the valorisation of a socially odd form of work, and from a particular vision of the public. This interacts in complex ways with the organisational routines in journalistic practice. The current crisis of news, then, is one of management, economics, and technology, but also of culture, authority and professional identity.

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