How much should social media and news really mix?

  • Author: Lauren
  • Lauren Fisher,

Journalists today seemingly have an increasingly complex role, that has come about with the rise of social technologies. Now journalists are not only expected to produce more news, quicker, but the onus is on them to use social technologies to both source and distribute this news in an entirely new way. But with all the positives that social technologies have brought for news, there are other implications to consider. Namely, what does it mean when the role of journalist is stretched to cover both their personal brand on social networks, as well as the 'normal' requirements that come with their job to produce the news. Can we expect them to do both, and indeed should they do both?

Associated Press social media guidelines

Showing just how much journalism and social media are moving closer together, the Associated Press have recently released an updated version of their social media guidelines for journalists. This includes topics such as : privacy ; retweeting ; friending ; interacting with users. While as the end user we may just see the outcome of a journalist using social media i.e. the public tweets on their account, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes to promote use of social media in the right way. While we may see it as simply a route for the journalist to open up a conversation with their readers, it is a tricky medium that must cover many different aspects of journalism - not only how they interact with readers, but how they source news, protect information (both of the journalist and their sources) and how journalists handle the privacy risks associated with sharing information, when everything is so susceptible to becoming public, quickly.

An extract from the report on retweeting, shows the extent to which journalists' use of social media is something that has to be carefully considered, and differs very much due to their duties & responsibilities that are unique to their role :

Should social be more important than the news itself?

A move made by Google+ this week shows some of the associated dangers that come with mixing social media and news too far. And the change made by Google shows the need for external organisations to better consider the outcome of mixing their own policies with that of news distribution. Google, I believe, made an error when they decided to mix Google News with Google + , by promoting journliasts with a Google + profile, with a photo byline pulled into a story on Google News. Initial reaction to this might be seen as positive, as it socialises news even more, but it is in fact a dangerous move by Google. As Emily Bell points out, this benefits no-one other than Google themselves.

What Google are doing here is allowing their own agenda (a desire to promote Google Plus to users and journalists) to influence the news agenda. This may not be as extensive as filtering news depending on Google Plus, but the change nevertheless changes the news pages in some way. It means that journalists that are social are going to get a better deal from Google here, based on a platform that is entirely separate from Google News and that shouldn't really implicate how news results are shown.

The move by Google brings up an important question in the consideration of journalists and social media. It is one thing to look at the use of 'social media' in general by journalists, and how this has changed both the production and distribution of news. But it is then quite another to look at the individual sites that the journalists are participating in. Here the journalists' practices are subject to the interpretation of a third party. As seen with the Google News example, it is Google that gets to decide which journalists are given a higher profile in News results.

While this may call on more journalists to be social, it is a worrying outcome that a behemoth like Google could begin to influence the news that we are shown (even more so than they currently do with Google News). Guidelines issued by the Associated Press, which may seem overly prescriptive, are necessary to ensure that social media impacts journalism only in a positive way, opening up the agenda and democratising it, rather than instead providing a new hierarchical structure.