The BBC College of Journalism is staging a Social Media Summit (hashtag #BBCSMS) in London this week, which will bring together industry leaders, practitioners and academics from around the world, with a view to collaboratively mapping the future of social journalism.
Social media is having a transformative impact on professional journalism. And the speed of the real-time revolution raises significant challenges and opportunities for journalists and their publishers. But it also necessitates a rigorous, industry-relevant academic research agenda.
The issues confronting journalism in the social media space include fundamental shifts in the practice of verification, the merger of private lives and professional practice, and the new journalistic role of community engagement.
These themes will be central to the summit, which will culminate in an open forum on Friday, featuring contributions from senior editors at The Guardian, Al Jazeera, NPR and The Washington Post.
Peter Horrocks, BBC head of Global News, said in February 2010 that social media practice for journalists was no longer discretionary. He was right. But this means that the professional training of journalists in social media theory and practice is also essential.
And, fundamental to teaching and training journalists in this new form of “social journalism,” should be cutting-edge and industry-relevant academic research in the field of journalism studies.
A collaborative social media research agenda
One of the objectives of the BBC Social Media Summit, which has attracted industry leaders and academics from around the world, will be identifying key areas for research in the field which can assist journalists and media organizations as they adapt to the challenges and opportunities of the social media age.
The process of charting a course for research into journalism and social media at the summit will be collaborative, with researchers in the field (me included) seeking to coordinate an approach that draws on industry expertise and responds to needs identified by the journalists and editors in attendance. We believe journalism research should be informed by journalistic practice and have a professionally relevant purpose. We’re also committed to feeding back our research findings — in an accessible and easily digestible way — to the broader community for input, in keeping with social media ethos and our belief in practically applicable research.
The Twitterization of Journalism
I’m writing a Ph.D. on the Twitterization of journalism, or the transformative impact of social media on the field. My research has so far highlighted the effect of engagement with sources and Jay Rosen’s “people formerly known as the audience,” the ways in which professional practice is being reshaped through real-time reporting, increased transparency, and the conflation of private and professional lives in the space.
As I’ve identified in the course of this research project (some elements of which I’ve previously explored at MediaShift) there are many rich and important research questions emerging in the field — almost at the speed of tweets!
Key Research Themes and Questions
Here are some of my contributions to framing a social media research agenda for journalism grouped under key themes I’ve identified in the process of academic and journalistic research in the field — a process which has included social media crowdsourcing of responses.
• How is social media changing the practices and processes of verification?
• What new methods of verification are emerging? How effective are they?
• What is the impact of changing verification practices — including crowdsourcing verification — on accuracy in reporting and journalistic credibility?
CLASH OF THE PROFESSIONAL AND PRIVATE
• What is the impact (personally and professionally) of the merger of journalists’ personal and private lives and their professional and public lives on social media sites?
• How do so-called audiences react to the blurring of personal and professional lives by journalists through their social media practice? What impact does it have on their views of journalists who use social media “socially?” Are they more or less likely to collaborate with such journalists?
• How do journalists’ interactions with the “people formerly known as audience” impact their research, reporting, and commentary of issues (including framing, source selection, objectivity and verification)?
• What rules of engagement do journalists bring to social media interaction? With what success/effect?
CONFLICT AND COMPLAINTS
• What are journalists’ experiences with being confronted with criticism about their work from colleagues, competitors and audiences on social media sites?
• What views have media organizations formed about the role of individual journalists in complaints handling via social media? What processes and guidelines are being, or need to be, developed?
• What are the impacts on journalists’ workload, productivity and well-being of 24/7 real-time social media practice and engagement?
• What systems and procedures are media employers putting in place to address the issues of workload, time management and risks associated with social media?
NETWORKING, PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT & GLOBALIZATION
• Explore the role and impact of cross-cultural and transnational communication via social media on journalists and their subjects
• Explore mentoring, networking, and employment patterns among professional journalists through social media
ROUNDS & BEATS
• Develop case studies of best-practice approaches to social media strategies in reporting rounds such as health, education, courts, emergencies, politics
• Explore the role of social media in public journalism projects
• How should social media be incorporated into university and professional training courses?
• Measure outcomes/impacts of training
• Explore cross-disciplinary approaches to problem-solving, involving computer scientists, journalists/journalism researchers (et al.) in development of industry-applicable resources and programs applicable to aiding reporting via social media, measuring social media impacts, verification, etc.
• Platform-specific research, e.g., How is Facebook changing journalism?
• How are courts and governments around the world responding to the challenges posed to publishing laws presented by real-time “masses media?”
• What are the implications for media freedom/freedom of expression of attempts to regulate the social web?
Share your ideas, help frame the research agenda
So, that’s my contribution to framing the research discussion at the summit. But what ideas would you like to throw into the mix? And what research approaches would you suggest, with what estimated value? We are particularly interested in hearing from journalism professors and researchers in the field.
There are three ways you can get involved. 1) You can contribute your ideas directly by participating in the summit in London this week; or 2) you can contribute your ideas and express interest by commenting on this post; or 3) you can participate remotely in the open conference session on Friday, May 20, by contributing to the Twitter discussion curated under the #BBCSMS hashtag.
We look forward to hearing your ideas and working together to chart the future of journalism research in the field of social media.
Julie Posetti is an award-winning journalist and journalism academic who lectures in radio and television reporting at the University of Canberra, Australia. She’s been a national political correspondent, a regional news editor, a TV documentary reporter and presenter on radio and television with the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC. Her academic research centers on journalism and social media, on talk radio, public broadcasting, political reporting and broadcast coverage of Muslims post-9/11. She blogs at J-Scribe and you can follow her on Twitter.