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Social Media and Journalism: Key Impact Areas

16 Comments 13 February 2012


On Friday, I gave a presentation on how social media is impacting journalism and the newspaper industry for the New England Press and Newspaper Association‘s winter conference. I had the honor of sharing the panel with Boston Globe reporter Milton Valencia and Crowdsourcing author Jeff Howe. Milton spoke enthusiastically about why Twitter matters to journalists, and Jeff explained the virtuous cycle of reporting and online community that makes reporting better. During the presentation, I identified four areas impacted by social media: the changing definition of an authoritative news source, the concept of news participators, how news is shared, and the changing news cycle.

Authority = Trust

In the age of social, a newspaper and its journalists must earn authority; who is an authority is now decided by news consumers. For decades (even centuries) there’s been a “paper of record” that has been considered the authority on what is news. No longer. According to the PEW report Understanding the Participatory News Consumer, 30% of internet users get news from a combination of friends, journalists, or news organizations that they follow on social networking site daily. Moreover, half of social network users who also consume news online get their news daily from people they follow within social networks.

Social network friends = news authorities. Along with traditional news sources.


In an attempt to take advantage of this trend, both The Washington Post and the Guardian (among others) have developed Facebook “social reader” apps. For example, one could use the Washington Post Social Reader’s Timeline app to share what you’re reading with your Facebook friends. What is incredible is that both The Washington Post and the Guardian already have 5 million app users.

Reuters has a different take on utilizing social network authority. Reuters recently launched Social Pulse, a social media hub that presents what is popular now with Reuters readers. What is interesting about Social Pulse is that it integrates both a sentiment analysis tool and its own “Klout 50” (the 50 “most social” CEOs) into Social Pulse. I would also be remiss not to write that Mashable launched its own social network news sharing community, Mashable Follow, a while ago. News organizations understand that online friends are the new news authorities, and they want to be in the center of it all with social reader apps, private social communities, and methods of influencing reader recommendations.


News Participants

With the rise of social media follows the rise of news participants: people who have contributed to the creation of news, commented about it, or disseminated the news through social media. According to the same PEW report on participatory news culture, 37% of internet users are news participants. News participants are likely to be considered news authorities within their own social networks. News participants are also deeply engaged news consumers who drive traffic back to news websites. During our conference session, Milton Valencia added that many reporters (himself included) use Twitter to engage news participants in confirming reports, soliciting information, and conversation.

The Guardian has launched an experiment in opening up the news development process to the public, called Open News. The Guardian states: “Help the Guardian shape the news by talking to our editors and reporters about upcoming stories as we work on them.” The Guardian posts a daily editorial calendar online, asks for news input, and has a dedicated Twitter hashtag (#opennews) for talking about stories they are researching. In preparing for this workshop, I found a number of papers with blogs, many with Twitter accounts, but none with participation opportunities like the Guardian‘s. Is this a likely future trend?


Social News Sharing

How news is shared is also shaping the news industry. About 50% of adults who get news online receive that news through email or posts on social networking sites. After readers consume news online, the second most popular action to do is to share the news online (see slide deck at end of post). Again, this supports the conceit of news sharers as news authorities, since those who share news socially may be considered by friends to be trusted news sources.

It is important for news organizations and journalists to be part of online communities where news is shared, participate in online conversations, and share news themselves. Since 23% of the social networking users who get news online say they specifically get news from news organizations and individual journalists they follow in the social networking space, the industry appears to be moving in this direction.

Social Media and the News Cycle

The Holmes Report wrote an insightful essay on how social media changes the news cycle during crisis reporting (hat tip to Mari Tikanen for the link).


The breaking news and context stages of the news cycle are shortening, and the analysis and archival stages are lengthening. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs are contributing to the shorter breaking news cycle and adding context to the stories. Google search, wikis, video, blogging, and Flickr contribute to the staying power of the analysis and archival stages of the news cycle.

Within 48 hours of Susan G. Komen’s decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood, Susan G. Komen has renounced that decision. No doubt the decision was impacted by how the story become viral nature through social media. However, the analysis and archival stages continue long afterward. For example, the community Pinterest board “Komen Kan Kiss My Mammogram,” which documents the backlash against Susan G. Komen, has over 1,200 followers and 1,000s of views. A wiki, Take Back the Pink, emerged shortly afterward to harness the energy and passion for women’s health in a positive manner. These are but two examples of how social media is lengthening the archival stage of the news cycle.

I have embedded the entire presentation below. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.



Social sharing and the news:

Social media and the crisis curve:

How mainstream media outlets use Twitter:




Your Comments

16 Comments so far

  1. Ash Shepherd says:

    I love the graphic looking at social media and the news cycle.  Great illustration of how the overall pieces fit together and relate.   Helpful to think about how tools and process come together.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Thanks, Ash. I suspect the breaking news/context will continue to shorten and the analysis/archive will continue to lengthen. Will be interesting to see how that plays out with the increase in news participators over the coming years, too.


  2. It’s interesting to hear your perspective on how viral and social media content change the dynamics of the news cycle.

    Do you think that the fast pace and concise language that’s becoming more common today affects reporters’ ability to produce in-depth content?


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Kat, great question. At the conference, someone asked a similar question. My colleague on the panel, Milton, from the Boston Globe, said that reporters still hold to the same standards as always: confirm and double-check sources. What he did say was that  reports of potential news items come at him rapidly, and he will often use Twitter to ask for a second source that he can call to confirm the report.


    Kat Friedrich Reply:

    That’s a good use of Twitter. Sometimes I use Facebook similarly. 

    This article from the Columbia Journalism Review talks about the effect of distraction on science reporters. 


  3. Ankur Arora says:

    Loved the article. Really insightful on how social media is shaping  the contemporary media.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

     You’re welcome – glad you found it useful.


  4. Josh says:

    Another interesting app I stumbled upon is Openreporter. A social network just for journalists. Could be the start of niche social networks?


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Yes, interesting! Looks like it is for reporters to connect with each other, and focused on reporters. Thanks for sharing.
    Debra Askanase
    Community Organizer 2.0
    Social media strategy and communication
    twitter: @askdebra



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Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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