As students in the J-School we constantly hear how important it is to build our personal brands. This most notably refers to a strong social media presence. With the 24/7 news cycle journalists are under increased pressure to stay informed about what’s going on. This is most easily done through being on social media. With the rise of social media use in journalism comes the building of a brand. So, how are journalists supposed to reconcile traditional journalism and news value with the push for them to be responsive to the public?
Journalist Gene Weingarten details the fear that may traditional journalists harbored about the rise of social media and journalism and the pressure of journalists to build their personal brand. He writes, “I do see why it’s happening. The media is in a frantic, undignified campaign to economize while at the same time attracting more “eyeballs.” It’s a dangerous situation: Newspapers that used to allocate their resources to deposing dictators and ferreting out corruption are now using them to publish snapshots of their readers’ cats.” He reflects on his days as a young reporter in which he was most concerned about his work, now he claims that journalists are concerned about themselves. He adds that the pandering to audiences that seems to accompany modern journalism is dangerous. “Yes, in the new lexicon, ‘readers’ have somehow become ‘users,’ as though, in an effort to habituate people to our product, we’re lacing it with crack. Which we are, sort of. Pandering, and getting pandered to, can be addictive, and it is bad for you,” Weingarten writes.
While funny, are Weingarten’s observations accurate? Hedman and Djerf-Pierre’s study of Swedish journalists’ use of social media can answer a few of his points. An integral part of social media is the interaction between journalists and their audience. This can build credibility, audience loyalty, and a sense of community. Journalists also can build their professional network through social media. Building on this knowledge, the study examines if there’s a digital divide between users and non-users. One of the most interesting results was what journalists thought about the usefulness of social media. Information gathering and environmental scanning were the most important uses of social media. Farther down the list of importance were organizational branding, getting feedback, networking and finding sources; even lower were personal branding and crowd sourcing.
Now that we know this, what difference does it make? Does social media use change professional identities and ideals? The study found that there are “no differences in general journalistic professional ideals that are related to the intensity of journalists’ professional social media use.” However, there are other differences. Frequent social media users (those who use it 24/7 or daily) are more receptive to audience adaptation and accepting of journalists promoting their personal brands, and more likely to believe that the traditional role of journalists is and has to be changed by social media.
This study is important because it reveals that social media is changing how journalists interact with audiences but it hasn’t changed how journalists see their role as part of the fourth estate. So, in response to Weingarten’s concerns, the adaptation of social media has change the profession of journalism, it’s core function (at least in the minds of journalists) remains intact, for now.
Hedman, Ulrika, and Monika Djerf-Pierre. “THE SOCIAL JOURNALIST: Embracing the social media life or creating a new digital divide?.” Digital Journalism ahead-of-print (2013): 1-18.