Are bloggers, tweeters and friends journalists, commentators or just regular folks reacting to media?
Social media seems to have broken traditional media and news organization's exclusive lock on the news. In fact, an interesting interplay is developing between informal and formal news gatherers who seem to feed off each other, vie to set the news agenda, compete for scoops and regularly borrow, refer to or use the same data, images, videos or graphics.
The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism looked at 29 weeks worth of news stories across all channels and concluded "the stories and issues that gain traction in social media differ substantially from those in the mainstream press … and they also greatly differ from each other."
Here's a top line summary of what they found:
Story Overlap is Modest. Blogs, Twitter and YouTube only shared the same top story once – during the week of rioting following the Iranian elections. Most of the top stories in social media "differ dramatically from what is receiving attention in the traditional press. Only a quarter of the leading stories in any given week were the same as in the mainstream media. Evidently the choices made in daily editorial sessions is more predictable and expected than the choices made by bloggers and tweeters even though leading global news organizations are big players on Twitter and YouTube.
News Topics Differ Dramatically. While there is shared coverage of national politics, economics and foreign affairs, social media has a much greater range. Stories about science, technology, education, green issues, consumerism, religion and off-beat stories get much more play than in traditional news channels. Ironically 99 percent of the stories linked to by bloggers came from traditional media outlets, led by BBC News and CNN. Social media is used to riff on and supplement traditional news. Social media activists see their role as expanding the news agenda and bringing to light topics not regularly or completely covered by the mainstream press.
Story Cycles are Shorter. Stories that gain traction in social media often emerge out of nowhere within hours of an initial report or event and disappear almost as quickly. Just 5 percent of top stories on Twitter, 9 percent on YouTube and 13% of top stories across blogs were still top stories a week later. Compare that to 50 percent of top stories that were still in the mix a week alter in traditional media. This may reflect professional discipline, emphasis on further exploring stories and/or social media's fleeting attention span where the act of posting is as important as the content.
Social Media are Columnists. Bloggers and tweeters tend to "gravitate toward events that effect personal rights and cultural norms – issues like same-sex marriage, the rationing of health care or privacy settings on Facebook." "A strong sense of purpose often accompanies the links in blogs," which in many cases, voice strongly held and divisive opinions. The facts and the breaking news are launching pads for social media activists who seem to see their role as illuminating facets of the story or advocating interpretations or positions within on-going news subjects. Social media content is much more pointed and personal.
Each Social Media has a Personality & Purpose. There is no common agenda or emphasis among social media channels. Twitter is heavily technology focused – 43 percent of the stories tracked during the 29 weeks covered tech topics. Similarly Twitter heavily addresses itself and its users. Users tweet as a way to pass along breaking information – Hamburger Helper for the mainstream media outlets active on the site and critical as source material for tweeters.
YouTube has less overt commentary though users make editorial selections in the choice of which videos to post. The intention seems to be sharing unusual, eye-popping or unexpected content. "The most watched videos have a strong sense of serendipity. They pique interest and curiosity with a strong visual appeal." Videos also span national and linguistic boundaries in ways that written commentary can't.
Blogs are like news bulletins or daily Op-Eds. Lead stories in a given week tend to last no more than 3 days. Content focuses less on additional reporting than in dissecting content, motivations or personalities in the news. Most of the lead stories differ from traditional press and overlap with Twitter at about the same ratio as with traditional media.
"Bloggers also demonstrated over the year a tendency to weigh in heavily on stories involving changes in society ranging from the trivial to the hot-button cultural issues. These linked-to stories cut across topic areas with an emphasis on adding their voices to conversations that might otherwise be outside their purview."
You can read the full Pew Report here.
Social media is expanding and illuminating the news. Relying on traditional media to dig up the facts and cover the expected beats, tweeters, bloggers and video posters are supplementing the coverage, uncovering topics and stories under-represented in the mainstream press and adding perspective and commentary.
Social media is bringing heat and light to our traditionally antiseptic "just-the-facts-ma'am" approach to newsgathering, news hierarchies and news presentation. The interplay between emerging and established media is evolving as traditional players mine the social sphere for stories, sources and to gauge resonance. It will be fascinating to watch this dance continue to develop.