Social Media And Digital Journalism

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The definition of Journalism has always been debated by various scholars throughout the development of journalism. Thus, we will first discuss two elements of journalism definitions that should be proposed by scholars. The following definition is proposed by Zelizer which defines journalism as “the organized and public collection, processing and distribution of news and current affairs material” and elsewhere defines news as “new information about an event or issue that is shared with others in a systematic and public way” (Zellizer & Allan, as cited in Shapiro, 2014). However, this definition lacks the focus on traits that a journalists should equip. It is significant to understand the traits of journalism since definitions are just a theoretical idea whilst the traits are what drives journalists to pursue practically. Hence, Deuze (2005) listed out “five ideal-typical traits or values” of journalism that are identified from various literatures, which are public service, objectivity, autonomy, immediacy and ethics. He then provided detailed explanation for these five points in his research.

At this point, we have discussed the basic tasks of journalism and the traits of journalism in society. It is acknowledgeable that most definitions today had failed to include the traits of journalism within their statement. As such, Ivor Shapiro (2014) proposed a definition that has converged both the tasks and traits of a journalist. The author defines as stated: “ Journalism comprises the activities involved in an independent pursuit of accurate information about current or recent events and its original presentation for public edification”. We believe this definition is one of the complete versions as it compromises the elements of journalism traits and basic tasks a journalist should accomplish. Therefore, this definition is to be utilized on the following discussions of our theme.

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Definition of Social Media

With the rise of Web 2.0, social media has started to gain its importance in society. Before further discussing social media and journalism, a clear definition of the broad term of social media is essential. Social media may come with different forms and types, such as social networking sites, image sharing and messaging sites, video sharing sites, social blogging, and social community and discussion sites (Banhart, 2017).

Despite the varieties of social media, the definition for social media is still ambiguous due to its broad functions. Social media is usually known by the social media platforms available but not by its functions. Obar and Wildman (2015) stated in their research in which social media services are currently Web 2.0 Internet-based applications and User-generated content is the lifeblood of social media. Hence, social media is an convergence of user-generated content and Web 2.0, which are the components that builds up the proper definition of social media. Based on that premise, we define social media as “ a group of Internet-based applications that builds on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content” (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2009). It is to take note that journalism institutions and social media users play a crucial role in the dissemination of information.

Definition of Digital Journalism

Digital journalism first surfaced on several scholarly publications during the mid-1990s when the Internet was easily accessible through the World Wide Web (Steensen, Grøndahl Larsen, Hågvar & Fonn, 2019). This term is also exhibited in different forms, such as online journalism, cyberjournalism, new media journalism, interactive journalism, and multimedia journalism (Kawamoto, 2003). Digital journalism is an upcoming yet essential trend for future research on the role of journalism in the society. On that account, digital journalism is defined as “the transforming social practice of selecting, interpreting, editing and distributing factual information of perceived public interest to various kinds of audiences in specific, but changing genres and formats” (Steensen, Grøndahl Larsen, Hågvar and Fonn, 2019). Consequently, authors believe that digital journalism shapes as well as is shaped by the new technologies, and it is able to create a symbiotic relationship with users.

In short, these definitions of the key concepts above will be used throughout this report for better understanding of this topic. This report will be addressing the doubts of traditional journalism in the future through the discussion between traditional and social media journalism. Plus, the term of “social media journalism” will be used throughout this report which has equal meanings with the term of digital journalism

Traditional Journalism and Social Media Journalism

Current State of Traditional Journalism

The best way to view its current state would be definitely viewing it from the perception of news consumers nowadays. This section can be analyzed from time spent on traditional media, readership, and circulation.

Time spent on traditional media is the most direct way to identify how significant traditional journalism plays in an individual’s daily life. As said always, time is money, consumers would never want to waste their precious time on unimportant matters. (2020) provided a set of statistics about the average time spent daily on digital and traditional media in the U.S. from 2011 until 2020, numbers on traditional media was gradually dropping while digital media was growing rapidly. It is observable that traditional media are losing its consumers to digital media annually. Readership of print media is simultaneously affected by changing preference of consumers. As recent studies from (2020) show that overall newspapers organizations in Australia have faced decline of their readership within one year. To discuss in-depth, the study on circulation of newspapers can directly translate to whether news organizations are making profit currently. For instance, daily newspaper circulation sales in Canada dropped 221 million dollars between year 2016 and 2018 ('Newspaper publishers, advertising and circulation sales by type of paper', 2019). This situation occurring around the world for traditional journalism is unfavorable as it threatens their position in society and survival in the news industry with the emergence of digital media.

Social Media Journalism

This section will be discussing statistics of social media journalism in three parts, which are social media as news source, attitudes towards social media journalism, and journalist’s attitude on social media journalism. Additionally, case studies will be related to discuss how news organizations utilize social media.

From a compiled survey among eight European countries (Pew Research Center, 2018), with at least 55% of the adults in six European countries obtain their news from social media sites. In addition, Italy showed the highest results whilst Germany’s results were the opposite. On the other hand, 68% of American adults also indicated that they obtain news from social media (Shearer & Matsa, 2018). Moreover, Facebook was the most commonly used social media platform for news among the eight European countries as well as America, while followed by Twitter and YouTube as second most used platforms for news in the respective areas (Pew Research Center, 2018; Shearer & Matsa, 2018). These statistics evidenced social media are used by the majority people in the Western countries to obtain their daily news. It is observable social media as main news source is already an trend.

Regardless of the social media news as the possible future trend, accuracy of news source is still a major concern for news consumers. Misleading of fake news can disrupt the social stability of countries. Statistics shows that social media are considered as the major contributor of providing misleading information compared to other channels like search engines (Newman, Fletcher, Schulz, Andi & Nielsen, 2020). In spite of Facebook being the main social media to obtain news, many countries were most concerned of Facebook (29%) as the social media platform that provides misleading information (Newman, Fletcher, Schulz, Andi & Nielsen, 2020). In contrast, WhatsApp was bringing more concern to countries such as Brazil and Malaysia with the numbers of 35% and 33% of people in both countries. Apart from the concerns mentioned, the acceptance level of news consumers on convergence of journalism and social media is also a major concern. According to Hermida, Fletcher, Korell and Logan (2012), 39% among 1600 of Canadian news consumers agreed that journalists should utilize Twitter to accomplish their job whilst only 34% disagreed to the approach. Remaining only 26% of the respondents expressed uncertainty to this approach. Thus, the high usage of social media as news source does not actually contribute to the positive attitude towards social media journalism of news consumers.

Nevertheless, from the journalist’s perspective, (2017) stated that 42% of journalists states that more than five types of social media were used to perform journalistic tasks weekly. The research stated the leading types of social media utilized were social networks with 90% of popular usage, followed by microblogs being the second with 67% of popular usage. In fact, social media has turned out to be an essential tool for journalists as 48% of respondents claimed they are unable to accomplish their job without social media. (2017) took a closer look on the effects of social media on journalism, majority journalists perceive that values of traditional journalism are disrupted. Journalists view social media journalism in a much more interesting way since they are the vital players in the industry. As a whole, these statistics have exhibited social media’s position in today’s society.

How News Organizations utilize Social Media

The most recent event was the massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon on 4 August 2020 which a video of an explosion raised from the city’s port area became viral around the internet. The explosion directly affected news organizations that were located in Beirut as many buildings were damaged seriously (Allsop, 2020). Oliver Holmes of The Guardian (2020), started a live update on the incident to inform readers the situation of Beirut from time to time. It can be observed that many of the verified contents were retrieved from Twitter posted by different users. However, Allsop (2020) argued that the viralness had led many Twitter users to have ignorant discussions on the issues, which this will enhance difficulties for journalists to retrieve information.

Another case study would be George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020. The tragedy emerged from a viral Facebook video of 46-year-old George Floyd handcuffed and pinned down by a police officer to the ground with a knee on Floyd’s neck, leading to his death (Deliso, 2020). However, the statement published by the Minneapolis police department was short and lacked with detail (Burch & Eligon, 2020). The footage from social media allowed journalists to investigate the news from another perspective rather than just blindly report based on the police’s statement (Burch & Eligon, 2020). Moreover, Floyd’s death raised the racial tensions in America which led to protests in various parts of the country. Local journalists took the responsibility to report the protests in their area. Thus, journalists and news organizations posted the challenges, situations and opinions of the “Black Lives Matter” protest on Twitter by time to time (Chakrabarti & Kotsonis, 2020).

Furthermore, another relatable case study would be Malaysia’s 14th General Election (GE14) during 2018. GE14 was an historical moment for Malaysians as the opposition have defeated the ruling government Barisan Nasional for the first time in 61 years. It has been recognized by scholars that social media has played a vital role for the results of GE14 (Nizah & Bakar, 2019). News organizations utilized social media to overcome its major challenges of low immediacy. Likewise, a live report of GE14 by Malaysiakini (2018) had up to 974 shares on various social media platforms. As such, With the deep penetration of social media among Malaysians, news organizations were able to obtain and disseminate information of both citizens and politicians. For instance, The Star (2019) utilized the collection of posts among citizens expressing their delights of the election results on Twitter and Instagram.

The Future of Journalism

Could Social Media be replacing Traditional Journalism ?

By discussing all the points above, it leaves us with one main question that is always concerned. The question would be: “ Could social media be replacing traditional journalism?”. The journalism industry has always been concerned as the influence of social media journalism expands continuously alongside with the development of technology and the Internet. Being replaced basically means that one cannot exist individually. However, we address this question by saying traditional journalism cannot be replaced by social media but it should adapt with features of social media to amplify its powers. Reasons will be further elaborated in this upcoming section.

Firstly, traditional journalism is irreplaceable with its credibility that social media journalism cannot achieve. The common functions of journalism can be recognized as to report, to analyze, to filter, to edit and to disseminate (Beckett & Mansell, 2008). Unfortunately, social media journalism is only able to execute these functions without the level of professionalism that traditional journalism possesses. Besides, citizen journalists may be free from restraints such as organizational and advertisement pressures to disseminate greater plurality of perspectives (Tilley & Cokley, 2007), but again, the credibility and professionalism of the information will definitely lose to traditional media. Take the COVID-19 pandemic as an example, Jurkowitz and Mitchell (2020) identified that 57% of respondents claimed social media were the main contributors for fake news of COVID-19. Certainly, the polluted sources from social media journalism is misleading the public rather than providing greater truthfulness. Traditional journalism is irreplaceable in the society when it can provide quality news with credibility. Statistics showed 64% of the adults trust traditional media as their selected news source more than 44% of adults who said social media ('Trust in news sources worldwide 2018 | Statista', 2019). Thus, social media journalism’s lack of credibility level makes it hard to replace traditional journalism.

Moreover, social media should be instead viewed as a tool for journalism to amplify its power of check and balance. An expert interviewed by Judy Dempsey (2017) said that social media serves more like a medium of message and has only changed the nature of how journalistic tasks are performed. Undoubtedly, social media has brought news dissemination to another level of immediacy and timeliness. Social media has made the access for diverse information become extremely easy for news consumers and journalists. As stated by Vis (2013), the vital role Twitter plays in sourcing breaking news is contributed by its platform openness and effortless access to data for its users. Besides news consumers, journalists also benefit from social media to retrieve both breaking and routine news such as Facebook and Twitter (Paulussen, Harder, & Johnson, 2018). Transparent flow of information leads to a well-informed public which enforces the check and balance power on the government. Instead of concerning whether social media will replace traditional journalism, social media should be alternatively viewed as a tool or medium for traditional journalism to expand its power.

Other than that, traditional journalism will never be replaced as themselves are adapting to the digital trend. We can acknowledge that majority news organizations today face the challenges of decline in circulation and readership which is concerning to their survival in the industry. (“Australian Newspaper Readership, 12 months to March 2020”, 2020; 'Newspaper publishers, advertising and circulation sales by type of paper', 2019 ). To encounter these concerns, traditional journalism shifts their practices to the digital landscape. A study by Lily Canter (2014) proved that majority journalists from two local British newspapers are willing to adapt to the Web 2.0 trend whereby one of respondents claiming that it is a positive thing to embrace these developments. The willingness to adapt can also be seen in Malaysia as (n.d.) that listed the mainstream medias with their own Facebook pages, for example Berita Harian, China Press, New Strait Times and more. The effort to make presence on social media platforms does not mean traditional journalism will discard their original practices. Hence, adaptation of traditional journalism makes it irreplaceable yet utilizing social media to stabilize its position.

In brief, it would be difficult yet impossible for social media to replace traditional journalism. The credibility that traditional journalism provides in its news content is unattainable by social media. Likewise, social media has only changed the nature of how traditional journalism operates since it is only a tool for traditional journalism. Intrinsically, traditional journalism has made its presence on social media platforms to encounter various future concerns. Therefore, regardless of the platforms journalism is practiced, it is significant for it to maintain its professionalism for the sake of a better check and balance that contributes to a more democratic society. Meanwhile, scholars changing their focus to studying “how journalism has been integrated into the digital” would be more meaningful for the future of journalism (Broersma, 2019, p. 516).

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Social Media And Digital Journalism. (2021, September 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
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