Research spies on social media, citizen journalism practices

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Say what you will about the journalism and mass communication profession, there is never a shortage of research, surveys and focus groups to provide for sufficient navel-gazing.

As a member of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, I am never at a loss for new material on my desk. The quarterly journals just keep stacking up. Scholars thrive on these research reports. Journalists, not so much.

The recent American Society of Newspaper Editors’ report garnered a lot more attention in the media world than a study on the adoption and use of citizen journalism content by online newspapers.

The gist of the ASNE 2015 newsroom census: Newsroom staffs are down another 12.7 percent from the previous year. In short, 32,900 journalists have jobs compared to 56,000 in 2000.

That’s not to say that academic research into the news profession isn’t without merit. Case in point, take that report on citizens journalism and online content. In the current edition of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, research about citizen journalism and user-generated content sheds some light on where and how citizen journalism can have a positive impact on newspaper content. The research was conducted by Seungahn Nah, Deborah Chung and Robert Zuercher of the University of Kentucky and Masahiro Yamamoto of the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.

(Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons)

Likewise, a study of more than 300 editors using social media turned up some not-so-surprising results. This report, “Editors Use Social Media Mostly to Post Story Links,” says it all in the title. It appears in the current issue of Newspaper Research Journal.

Regarding the citizen journalism study, in their words and mine, here is a synopsis of the finding:

  • The longer a newspaper has had an online presence and the larger the staff, the more likely they will use citizen journalists’ content, especially photos. Same with public-generated videos. Newspapers with a longer online presence were more likely to adopt these in use.
  • “U.S. newspaper editors appear to recognize the benefits of integrating USG (user generated content) by online news audiences, perhaps in the hope to provide a more dynamic and engaging news consumption experience for their own readership in addition to the potential to increase circulation and story generation.”
  • “Newspapers in heterogeneous communities were more likely to incorporate such collaborative stories than those of newspaper in homogeneous communities.” The more diverse the community is, the more likely editors will consider using citizen content in an effort to better represent the various segments and voices of that community.
  • “Additionally, newspapers in communities where there is a greater number of community groups and organizations with resources and creating a diverse power structure are more likely to work with these groups regarding publishing.” If these outside groups have proven themselves to be valued content providers and present a voice for that community segment, the use of the content increases. An additional side effect is not just the range of voices, but the appeal of free labor content.

On the media’s social media usage:

Most outlets use social media primarily to post links to stories on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. “Far fewer use social media to interact with audiences by posting questions and responding to comments,” according to researcher Sue Burzynski Bullard of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

  • When it comes to agreeing on best practices of social media, the print people and broadcasters see things slightly differently.  Most, 68 percent (print) and 67 percent (broadcast), agree that verifying information before using it is a best practice.
  • However, newspaper editors’ lowest-rated best practice was to “require the frequency of postings,” with only 38 percent seeing that as necessary. On the other hand, 51 percent of broadcasters thought it was essential.
  • Broadcasters cited “pose questions to provoke discussions” as its top social media priority, with an 84-percent nod to best practices; 61 percent of newspaper editors agreed.
  • Where broadcasters thought “train everyone on staff how to use social media” as a best practice at 70 percent, newspaper management rated it lower, at 46 percent.
  • Both agreed using a conversational tone in social media was important with 65 and 72 percents, respectively, for print and broadcasting.




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