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Monday, 12 September 2011

So how has social media changed the way newsrooms work?

Last Friday, Kevin Bakhurst, the deputy head of the BBC newsroom gave a talk at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam.

He asked and subsequently answered: How has social media changed the way newsrooms work?

A good question.

So I thought I'd have a go as well. Not an exhaustive list by any means and you could flesh out a few things but a reasonable starting point...

1. Organisational
a) Digital tools facilitate easier cross-departmental co-operation.
b) Establishment of specialist departments to filter, sift and verify material published and submitted by the 'former audience' (E.g. UGC hub at BBC, Iran Election desk at CNN, 2009).
c) Integration of these departments into wider newsroom. No longer an add-on to traditional newsgathering but essential and central part of that operation. (E.g. BBC's UGC hub moves from 7th floor at Television Centre to main newsroom area 2007-8).
d) Creation of new roles - social media editors; community managers; interactivity editors; UGC journalists; livebloggers.

2. Newsroom culture
a) (Easy to forget these days....) Acceptance of digital sources as legitimate places where journalists might find valuable news and information that can be incorporated into news stories.
b) Emergence of a spirit of journalism which views autonomy as shared with the audience rather than the result of independent inquiry. 'Shared' and 'independent' understandings exist alongside one another in newsrooms...
c) ...so first-hand journalism is coupled to newsroom journalism which benefits from hundreds of online sources
d) Efforts made to be more transparent about the process of journalism - explanations of editorial decisions and the limitations of news reporting.
e) Speed of news cycle deemed to have increased.
f) Personal public profile of an increasing number of journalists important to maintenance of news brand (E.g. Previously off screen producers now highly visible on Twitter).
g) Aspiration for a model of conversational/interactive journalism despite difficulties of making it work in practice.
h) Creation of new editorial guidelines for online content.
i) Greater awareness of instant audience feedback to journalism

3. News content
a) Adoption of social media platforms as outlets for traditional media content. Blogs, Facebook pages, YouTube, Twitter, Liveblogs, Flickr, Tumblr, etc etc...leading to...
b) Exploration of different modes of online reporting. Shift from 'inverted pyramid' model towards 'live updates'. Increased incorporation of audience comment. "Data journalism" sourced from the 'former audience' and subsequent visualisations (E.g. Ushahidi, #uksnow map). Convergence of genres and establishment of multimedia news as the norm.

4. Shifting values
a) Immediacy and accuracy vs speed - speed of news cycle and the ability of individuals to publish immediately leads to new understandings of accuracy and processes of verification...
b) Verification I - a move from 'verify, then publish' towards 'publish (with attribution to the source) then verify'. Increased online engagement with rumour, half-truths and emerging reports. Establishing the 'truth' is an evolving potentially participatory experience.
c) Verification II - development of "forensic" analysis of social media content as well as collaborative and 'crowdsourced' models.
d) Transparency as 'objectivity'? The hyperlink and an increased 'news hole' on the Web allows space for openness about sources and transparency about biases. But resisted by news orgs - volume of links out limited as news sites want visitors to stay on their own site. Some news orgs have retained emphasis on value of 'objective' and/or 'impartial' approach (see below).  

5. A few limits
a) Public emphasis on adherence to traditional journalistic standards and practices to safeguard the professionalism of journalism.
b) Maintenance of robust understandings of what is deemed to be newsworthy in traditional media.
c) Restraints of time, money and scale limit the interactive potential of conversational news. Audience members tend to interact with each other rather than with journalists. (E.g. Twitter hashtags).
d) Various news organisations steer clear of the embrace of subjective content retaining an emphasis on 'objective' and 'impartial' news (Economist, BBC). Although the proliferation of partial, opinionated journalism challenges these organisations for attention, it also strengthens their USP.

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