Social Media in Broadcast Journalism

Introduction

The term social media can refer to a wide variety of outlets, which aid individuals in communication with others through electronic means. Boyd and Ellison (2007) define social media as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (p. 211). The utilization of different social networking sites (SNS), often involves sharing status updates, pictures, videos, and professional qualifications. Although the term social media can pertain to several different forms of SNS, Twitter and Facebook, in particular, have become increasingly popular throughout society. In June 2011, 200 million tweets were sent daily worldwide through this medium (“200 million,” 2011), and a similar number use Facebook as well (“The Facebook Obsession,” 2011).

Social media is generally used in correspondence between family and friends; however, several organizations have also begun to incorporate Twitter and Facebook as a means of message dissemination, while also maintaining open communication between coworkers, superiors, and subordinates (Treem & Leonardi, 2012, p. 170). Previous research has questioned whether social media serves to advance or hinder relationships within the organization, as well as the effect that this may have on the distribution of news content. In the field of journalism, social media has been found to aid in the processes of news distribution and newsgathering, although this often depends on the context of a particular story. Moon and Hadley (2014, p. 299) concluded that feature stories generally contain more information garnered from Twitter than breaking news stories. Additionally, broadcast media outlets have been found to utilize Twitter more frequently than those working in print media outlets, but there is controversy regarding the appropriate uses for such emerging technology. Journalistic research, as well as television portrayals, suggest that social media is increasingly becoming an integral part of the news industry; however, its verifiability is questioned to a certain extent.

Research Question

In what way is social media such as Facebook and Twitter, utilized in television productions, and how are they perceived to affect business and communication in news organizations?

Literature Review

Over the past decade, social media has become an increasingly popular platform for individuals to share information about their work and personal lives. In February 2004, Harvard Undergraduate, Marc Zuckerberg, developed a site originally titled thefacebook, as a means for college students to interact with one another (“The Facebook Obsession,” 2011). With the help and support of Napster founder, Sean Parker, Zuckerberg was able to introduce his site to those living outside of the Ivy League campus, and later received offers from both Microsoft Office and Friendster, to buy the company for ten to fifteen million dollars (“The Facebook Obsession,” 2011). Despite this substantial offer, he refused to sell, and continued to expand his organization to reach a larger social network. This idea of providing individuals with a forum to maintain contact with others, and share personal information such as religion, gender, age, and relationship status, precipitated an alteration in communication styles throughout society (“The Facebook Obsession,” 2011).

Facebook, as well as Twitter, have both been incorporated into the workplace by facilitating the formation of relationships and self-presentation in an online platform. According to Treem and Leonardi (2012, p. 178), social media is integral to the study of organizational communication, due to the growing opportunities developing from such innovative technology. They outlined a series of ways in which social media can contribute to communication in the organizational setting, suggesting the concepts of visibility and association. Firstly, social media helps to maintain an online reputation, by the reposting of links leading to certain articles or information. It can also form a “social tie” between individuals, helping them to interact with coworkers within their workplace, while also sharing information about their lives, preferences, knowledge, and connections through online profiles (Treem & Leonardi, 2012, p. 162). In addition to maintaining connections, another usage of this new media regards message dissemination, which greatly impacts those working within the field of journalism.

The introduction of social media has influenced the news industry by changing the way in which stories are gathered and distributed. Cozma and Chen (2013) stated “Social networking sites are used to bypass the traditional media channels and offer world news to citizens that are famously apathetic, but also use mobile communication more than ever” (p. 43-44). According to Lasorsa et al. (2012, p. 25) most journalists write approximately 5.6 tweets per day; however, this varies depending on the particular media outlet. A study conducted by Cozma & Chen (2013, p. 39), examined how foreign correspondents used Twitter as a medium for news distribution, and found that 13 percent of their tweets pertained to breaking news, 14 percent promoted their workplace, and 6 percent attempted to engage users through online interaction. Moon and Hadley (2014, p. 295) similarly examined the use of Twitter in the journalism profession, by analyzing the tweets of seven major media outlets in the United States; this included news sources such as The New York TimesThe Washington Post, CNN, and NBC News. In this case, CNN was found to cite Twitter more often than its print and broadcast competitors with 389 segments incorporating this form of social media, in comparison to the 55 segments shown on NBC (Moon & Hadley, 2014, p. 297).

The content of such stories gathered from Twitter often differ from those obtained by conventional means. Lasorsa et al. (2012, p. 29) stated, “Journalists diverged from their traditional roles as nonpartisan information providers by offering a considerable number of opinions in their tweets” (p. 28). They also found that Twitter was employed for feature stories more often than hard news, with 16 percent of the tweets consisting solely of opinion topics; 27 percent of these messages were perceived as being slightly biased. An analysis of the data also suggested that reporters working for major media outlets with a large audience were less likely to stray from professionalism by sharing stories and personal information through this medium (Lasorsa et al., 2012). Contrastingly, those employed at small local stations were generally more active on Twitter, due to their need to sustain followers. According to Moon and Hadley (2014, p. 298), many of the stories journalists derive from Twitter feeds are related to politics, and the majority of users they rely on for accurate information can be considered reputable sources, such as government officials. Although many journalists may continue to rely on credible sources for information, social media is indeed changing the norms within this field, particularly in regard to broadcast journalism.

Many journalists working within the broadcast news industry use Twitter more often than those working in print, and are thereby able to reach a broader audience (Cozma & Chen, 2013, p. 42). While studying several news outlets, Moon and Hadley (2014, p. 298) found that 301 television news segments used Twitter as a primary source of information, whereas only 34 print articles collected their information in this way. In television news, this notable involvement in social media may also contribute to the growing popularity of broadcast journalists in society (Moon & Hadley, 2014, p. 43). Through Twitter, many journalists promoted their workplace by incorporating links to their station’s website, whereas others were more interactive with their audience, engaging in discussions with users by prompting questions, and seeking information on particular stories. This can also relate to the concept of gatekeeping, as journalists have the ability to open up the forum for discussion, by retweeting the statuses of other users (Lasorsa et al., 2012, p. 26). These innovative techniques for distributing the news “produce unique footprints of the movements, conflicts, or events they pertain to” (Papacharissi, 2015, p. 32) while also helping the viewers to become more involved with the development and process of newsgathering. However, there is also an expectation of immediacy with this medium, and at certain times a journalist may not have the ability to thoroughly comprehend the information before being required to report on a story. In addition, with the growth of citizen journalism, it is often difficult for those in the news industry to disclose breaking news before others release the information (Papacharissi, 2015, p. 36).

Despite such disadvantages regarding this dissimilar form of communication, social media such as Twitter and Facebook continue to impact the field of broadcast journalism by changing the way in which individuals communicate and disseminate news. In accordance with these scholarly studies, the implementation of social media in the workplace environment was also represented in a fictional television series, with limited discrepancies. Over the course of two weeks, nine episodes of HBO’s The Newsroom were viewed, in order to correlate these concepts regarding social media within the field of broadcast journalism, with the way in which it is portrayed through mainstream television.

Discussion

The HBO television show The Newsroom contained several segments incorporating social media in the workplace, particularly in regard to news production. This show finished its third and final season on December 14, 2014, having aired a total of twenty-five episodes (Sorkin, Rudin, Poul, Lieberstein, & Briggs, 2012). Throughout this series, the characters faced personal issues, while also seeking to obtain reputable sources, meet deadlines, and maintain a professional image on social media. Although there were certainly correlations found between the show and the literature, their portrayals of social media varied slightly, depending on the context of the work environment.

News Gathering

The Newsroom incorporated several different forms of social media in these nine episodes, reflecting how Twitter and Facebook are utilized in broadcast news outlets, relating to several of the concepts addressed in the literature, principally news gathering. The fictional ACN station depicted in the show reached a nationwide audience, through their Blog, Twitter, and Facebook pages, which were all maintained by employees within a particular department. In the episode “Willie Pete,” the reporters used Facebook to learn information about gossip columnists, who they believed had been leaking information (Sorkin & Glatter, 2013); however, this was essentially the only time that this particular SNS was mentioned. Twitter was incorporated much more routinely, corresponding with the focus of prior research on the news environment.

Additionally, this episode featured the attempt to report on a Genoa war crime that received very little coverage by politicians or the mainstream media; the journalists sought to gain a better understanding of the issue through Twitter (Sorkin & Gladder, 2013). In order to gather more information, they searched for every message posted in a particular area during the timeframe when the event would have occurred. They narrowed down the results with hashtags, and then sent the information to a translator, in order to ensure that they were correctly interpreting the messages (Sorkin & Gladder, 2013). Although it took a large amount of time to have the tweets translated, they eventually found that civilians were tweeting about “white phosphorus” as well as helicopters, American soldiers in gas masks, and burning villages. This discovery through Twitter helped them to develop a leading story; however, this breaking news event was not initially shared with viewers. Moon and Hadley (2014, p. 302) found that such national stations are sometimes reluctant to use social media as a source, in an attempt to maintain a professional image for their viewers. They also added that reporters are often required to obtain information from trusted public officials, rather than broadcasting a story based on a potentially biased account (Moon & Hadley, 2014, p. 302). Correspondingly, in this circumstance, the executive producer refused to use Twitter as a sole source of information, contending that they must find a second source before airing the segment, in order to prevent misunderstandings in the organization, as well as with those in society.

Furthermore, another episode featured coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, during which time the reporters somewhat incorporated Twitter into their news gathering process. Upon receiving word about an explosion in Boston, the station began searching for more information on this story, as they didn’t have any specific details (Sorkin & Hemingway, 2014). A reporter, whose principle job involved blogging, perused through Twitter, searching for hashtags on the marathon; she found an extensive amount of tweets about mass casualties, explosions, and fear. However, the executive producer once again refused to run such a breaking news story, remarking that credible news stations cannot trust Internet sources that they are unable to speak with in person. They were cautious to air anything relating to the bombings, which proved detrimental to their business as it led to a decline in ratings. Their competitors, including Fox, aired the breaking news segment on the marathon bombings before ACN did; this reluctance to air the story lowered their ratings substantially, as they went from second to fourth place that week (Sorkin & Hemingway, 2014). The incorporation of social news in the mainstream media can make it difficult to report on a story first, while also giving a greater sense of immediacy and stress to the job (Papacharissi, 2015, p. 36). In such a cultural setting, the expectations are high, with very little tolerance for mistakes. For example, one blogger was fired after accidentally sending a stereotypical and judgmental tweet on behalf of the station (Sorkin & Poul, 2013b). While this was a noteworthy mistake, the managers also did not attempt to socialize this employee into the organization, but rather imposed upon her certain tasks that were supposedly outside her zone of indifference. This approach to management may have been implemented because of certain structural values in the organization, relating to proper message dissemination and representation of ethical principles in the organization (Sorkin & Poul, 2013b; Moon & Hadley, 2014, p. 301).

News Dissemination and Interaction

In accordance with prior research, the station did not use Twitter as frequently in the message dissemination process, although it was mentioned several times regarding promotion for the organization and the employees themselves. The episode “Election Night Part 2” featured extensive coverage of the 2012 Presidential Campaign, with updates shared through Twitter and Blogs; this relates to the study conducted by Moon and Hadley (2014, p. 298), who contended that politics are prevalent topics conveyed through social media (Sorkin & Mottola, 2014). The ACN station apparently had a substantial number of followers, which created upheaval in a subsequent episode when a Youtube video was posted of a producer yelling on a bus; a passenger blogged and tweeted this video, thereby humiliating and embarrassing the employee’s work credibility (Sorkin & Podeswa, 2013). This subordinate was admonished, as she failed to regulate her emotions and maintain a certain level of professionalism in her capacity as a producer. In order to reestablish the station’s online image, one of the lead anchors helped her coworker through this dilemma; she persuaded the woman who had posted the link to take it down, by promising that she would promote the intimate blog to her 450,000 followers (Sorkin & Podeswa, 2013). This anchor was well known for her advice on chief financial issues, as well as the stock market, which she shared with her many followers on Twitter. Similarly, Lasorsa et al. (2012, p. 30) concluded that the majority of information given from social media, tends to be opinionated and biased remarks, although this is not commonplace at such large stations. According to Moon and Hadley (2014, p. 43), the incorporation of social media has also led to an increase of popularity for news anchors, explaining why this particular individual was able to delegate a situation through her online influence.

While each anchor’s substantial Twitter fan base helped to promote the organization to a certain extent, it has led to further issues in the organization when their anchors did not behave in a professional manner. In episode “News Night With Will McAvoy,” gender issues within the workplace became a trending topic of discussion, when pornographic images of the financial talk anchor were posted online (Sorkin & Poul, 2013a). This woman was forced to publically apologize, and accept punishment for such a detrimental mistake, after willingly posing for the pictures. This episode also involved a print journalist from another media outlet, who posted a vindictive tweet about the lead evening anchor; she accused him of being pretentious, simply because he didn’t recognize her in a restaurant (Sorkin & Poul, 2013a). Although print media is generally not considered to constitute as much popularity as broadcast media (Cozma & Chen, 2013, p. 41), this woman did appear to have a large number of followers, which led to multiple retweets; buzz feed later released an article about it as well, exemplifying how a story can become a national debate when reposted through such means. As a result of this occurrence, the station advised the anchor to apologize for any bitterness he may have caused by his unintentional actions; in this way, they believed that he would restore his public image, as well as that of the station.

In addition to representing the station, social media was also found to establish communication with the audience, as well as between coworkers in the organization. Throughout several episodes of the series, Twitter was frequently discussed in the newsroom, which helped to maintain contact through virtual means, even if the material was not relevant to any of their current stories. In the episode “ Election night part 2,” a picture was retweeted several times, depicting a senior staff member on the ground with broken champagne glasses; the image also showed a young waitress, who had previously been in a problematic relationship with a producer (Sorkin & Mottola, 2014). In this case, social media communicated an unsatisfactory message between members within that organization, as they were all aware of the issues involved. Moreover, Lasorsa et al. (2012, p. 27), concluded that social media in the newsroom usually involves the audience to some extent through discussion and feedback. Through the journalistic integration of social media, viewers in The Newsroom were able to connect with the anchors, as well as producers, through the use of hashtags on Twitter and Facebook. Cozma and Chen (2013, p. 41) found that many news stations utilize hastags to promote their workplace and engage with viewers. Correspondingly, the executive producer at ACN was able to search the hashtag #newsnight, to see what comments were made about the show, while also discussing various topics related to current events, and thereby reaching a broader audience (Sorkin & Poul, 2013a).

Future of Social Media in the Newsroom

Towards the end of the series, a new station owner was featured, who hoped to implement policies further advancing the gathering and distribution of news through social media. He described a user generated news broadcast show that was targeted toward 18 to 25 year olds, and expanded on a multitude of platforms, including Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and Blogs (Schoeneman & Sorkin, 2014). Similarly, Lasorsa et al. (2012, p. 26) found that many journalists have begun promoting their shows through social media, by retweeting statuses, incorporating links to their company website, seeking information from users’ stories, engaging in discussions, and getting viewers more involved in the news process. In this episode, the incoming superior explained to current employees that this new system would allow the audience to become contributors, while also enabling the station to develop a greater consideration for their surrounding environment (Schoeneman & Sorkin, 2014). However, a senior member, who had worked in the organization for a number of years, rejected this notion, contending that user generated material would disregard the talent, training, and professionalism associated with such a career in the broadcast news industry. This man expressed a dislike of social media and citizen journalism, remarking that they must continue to disseminate the news in the same manner as they had for the past several decades. Despite such admonitions, the owner fervently advocated for the integration of new media, explaining that change was inevitable, and the critical component to developing a future successful broadcast news station is the utilization of social media (Schoeneman & Sorkin, 2014).

Conclusion

In conclusion, social media has greatly impacted the news industry, changing the way in which journalists gather and disseminate news. In both the literature and television episodes, the social networking sites, Twitter and Facebook, were used the most frequently, with Twitter being the most prevalent medium in such portrayals of the broadcast news environment (Sorkin et al., 2012). In regard to news gathering, ACN’s coverage of the Boston Marathon used hashtags to narrow down results, which was a tactic not discussed in the literature. However, this station was generally not permitted to use Twitter as a sole source, and the verifiability of this SNS was questioned, just as Moon and Hadley (2014, p. 28) concluded. Additionally, biased and opinionated stories were somewhat shared on Twitter in opposition to hard news, but this may have been a more prevalent means of news distribution, if the station portrayed in the show was a small local media outlet. This type of large organization also constituted a high pressure and fast paced work environment, with little acceptance for mistakes or misunderstandings, especially in regard to an appropriate presentation of the organization (Sorkin et al., 2012).

While social media has indeed changed the way in which information is garnered, it has also affected relationships in the workplace, led to a more effective business model, and engaged viewers through this interactive process (Lasorsa et al. (2012, p. 27). In the television episodes, coworkers frequently spoke about Twitter, and shared information through the medium, while also optimizing discussion with those in society. They hoped to reach their young target audience and gain higher ratings, by encouraging user generated content and audience participation in journalistic endeavors (Schoeneman & Sorkin, 2014). Such examples demonstrate how social media is increasingly becoming an integral aspect of the news industry, changing the way in which news is both gathered and disseminated, while also leading to a greater level of support and interaction with viewers, and contributing to communication within the organization.

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