Social Media- A boon for journalists

Ravia Gupta
“We are witnessing the emergence of powerful new voices and networks which can act independently. Highly networked individuals can move across, undermine and go beyond the boundaries of existing institutions.”- William Dutton
Corona Virus, a name that went wild in the recent few days is now even known to someone as young as 4 or 5 years old who are under home arrest at present. A deadly virus that is costing almost all the professions severely is also posing a great threat to the profession of journalism. Looking at the recent trends and reports the crisis which is soon expected to explode in India is a testing times for journalism and journalists who are leading from the front in the line of duty to inform and update its citizens. Thanks to social media- which is emerging as the new 5th pillar of Democracy is now proving to be quite a boon for the new-age journalist to keep thriving in desperate times such as these.
There is change in the way information is flowing in the past decade, resulting in creating more social ways of doing journalism and being more inclusive of different voices. The focus is less on platforms more on content and networks. In given scenario when everyone is steering their way through the network via connections, journalists are no different.
Alejandro in 2010 said that there is no doubt that the revolution brought by new media in the human society has changed the way information is saved, shared, searched or consumed. Started in 1998, Google has now become an alternate to the word search and post this first wave of innovation another revolution is changing the societies, cultures and business in the form of social media. Social media was introduced in India in 2008 and it is interesting to study how social media has found an entry into newsrooms and gaining acceptance among journalists due to its influence as a communication and news-breaking tool.
On one hand, social media networks are opening new opportunities for news industry. On the other hand, they are changing the roles and functions of a traditional journalist and media organizations. A digital age journalist is essentially multi-tasking and submitting stories for multiple platforms. New posts like social media editors are also being created for editors in the newsrooms. In the social media ecology, journalism is flourishing on participation and connections rather than a top-down approach. Unlike traditional media, social media allows many voices and participants, sites and streams. According to Lievrouw & Livingstone change can be promoted into a social system through a domino effect and it is the personal characteristics and interaction of innovative groups which enhances the domino effect. Considering the contemporary media trends, one can easily say that social media certainly upholds the potential to be creating the domino effect by challenging the system’s view. An interesting shift is seen in the news industry from gatekeeping to gatewatching. Gatekeeping practice of journalism according to Burns in 2014 is now being replaced by gatewatching. It is done by bloggers and other online communities to curate content and evaluate news and other information provided by official sources. Role of journalists as gatekeepers of information is lost. In the present complex media environment, it is becoming difficult for media to drive public debate alone. Newspapers are shifting to online platforms and digital intervention is reshaping the work of newspaper journalists both as a source of news as well as medium of distribution. Effects of convergence on Indian newsrooms are finally visible now. There is a growing acceptance of web and social media by journalists as a reliable source of primary and secondary information. According to Aneez in 2016, workflow in a newsroom is managed by content management systems and multimedia approach is being used for presenting news stories in the present newsroom operations.
Growing social media presence
As per the recent report of India Digital News Report (2019), 68% people in India use their smartphones to access news online. This growing number is a clear indication of the future of news in India. Besides, another important change could be the potential of online activities to increase offline political participation.
According to a study on social media usage and beliefs of editors in Jammu & Kashmir, it is seen that 74% editors are learning social media skills and 91% are using social networking sites to post news stories. 66% have agreed that they use Social Networking Sites to beat competition and 74% editors agreed that presence and popularity of social media mostly by political leaders can’t be ruled out in present times. Editors accepted that it is imperative for them to check what’s happening on social networking sites and in that sense it is also becoming the main source of news for journalists.
The study has also indicated that there is a change in the pattern of information being received by editors themselves. 26% editors are spending around 2-4 hours on a daily basis on social networking sites to follow political leaders. 43% editors like social media as it provides them more sources. 54% editors agreed that Twitter is becoming their news source and 49% use Social Networking Sites to disseminate news.
As far as social media beliefs and usage of reporters in Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, the data reveals that almost 81% reporters are using social media to post news stories mainly to enhance their reach and increase their visibility, which was missing so far especially in the field of print journalism. 39% reporters are learning social media skills to post news stories and 84% use social media to generate story ideas. 53% reporters consider social media to be the main source of news for journalists and 49% responded positively when asked regarding the need for investigative reporting in the age of social media. When reporters from J&K were asked regarding the future of journalism in the age of social media, 86% reporters emphasized on the need for field work in the age of social journalism and 83% felt the need for verification even more crucial in present times especially when news is there everywhere.
Around 42% reporters find it is easy to share news post using social networks and 29% reporters liked social media for the speed with which it disseminates news almost the real-time reporting. Finally, real-time reporting is also possible in print media with the help of social media platforms. As far as types of beats being covered by reporters using social media is concerned, 39% reporters claim they used it mainly to cover local politics, followed by education news 26% and crime news only 19%. However, the least covered beats by them in J&K remain economics, entertainment and health. In times of a crisis situation, around 35% reporters agreed using social media to break terror news stories while 30% used it to break other news stories. Interestingly, 42% reporters agreed that their work quality has improved by using social media.
The new news ecology & challenges
Pattern of new ecology of news production seems to be moving social and there is a change in the communication patterns of the present tech savvy generation too. Studies prove that today’s youth often feels alienated in the real world. Social trend on one end is cementing public and mass communication but on the flip side it is also weakening interpersonal communication and thus impacts building reliable news sources. Building reliable sources online however could be a future challenge for reporters covering sensitive beats like crime. Another emerging problem for news content could be the user-generated content that leads to more plagiarism and creates a new challenge for Intellectual Property Rights.
Various problems faced by journalists in sourcing news online however remain verification of facts. Sites containing unreliable information, badly sourced information and lack of source credibility are some of the emerging problems being faced by journalists while sourcing online news content.
Social media seems to be having a strong influence on journalism and the traditional top-down model of journalism is also losing its relevance in online space. The interesting thing to observe however is that Is social media going “back to the roots” of the internet’s starting point when individuals ruled the roost instead of big corporations? Social media prospects for consumer use and business prospects are clearly determining the present as well as the future of journalism, which will have the presence of both virtual and real, besides evolving from over-sharing of information. Another question that also needs to be addressed is the need for journalism in the Internet era and need for press in democracies, especially redefining the relationship between journalism and democracy which so far was seen through news, centered on story-telling based on facts. Most relevant in Indian context, however, would be to note how new media is used by journalists to make the profession relevant in times of citizen journalism and ‘WhatsApp news’.
(This is an excerpt from the study conducted by the author “Digital Journalism: An Analytical study of social media usage by media professionals” published in Shodh Sarita- An International Multidisciplinary UGC CARE Journal, Vol 6, Issue 24; 2019.)