Social media has changed the way in which the world operates. I realise that this may be a reasonably bold statement to make but it’s one, which I stand by. Many industries have been altered by the emergence of social media in recent years; advertising and marketing, retail and education to name a few. And the world of journalism is no different. Social media has transformed the way in which journalists do research, gather sourced content and share their stories with the public. For the most part this has been a welcomed changed but remains a source of angst among the older generation of journalists, or ‘traditionalists’. Like other areas where social media has made a slow but forceful integration, journalism has no choice but to concede with the changes brought about by the Digital Age.

Much like any change, the digital age requires adaptation and assimilation and this has, in turn, changed the job specifications for the average journalist. User-generated content has forced journalists to adapt and acquire new skills and nowadays, first-hand accounts of events and crises are at the end of a hashtag and sometimes neatly packaged within a 140-character limit. Retrieving information from such means is forcing today’s journalists to become more “tech-savvy”. And so, the social media citizen-journalist was born. And none of this rings more true than in the case of Syria.

Due to President Bashar al-Assad’s banning of international media reporting on the turbulence in Syria, activists have inadvertently become “citizen-journalists”, broadcasting events that were previously hidden unto the entire world. These new-age reporters “picked up smart phones to visually document events and report in 140 characters or less about the conflict”, writes Chloe Lowe for Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty (for the full article click here). Along with this, many accredited journalists turn to citizen-journalists for primary sourced information since entrance into the country is increasingly monitored. Washington Post’s Liz Sly claims to “touch base” with hundreds of Syrians for their first-hand experience with the conflict.

As previously mentioned, social media has redefined many industries, driving changes in the service or product provider and consumer dynamics. The main principal states that many of these industries are at the mercy of the consumer as it is now they who dictate when, where and how much information is received. And journalism is no different. Gone are the days of mass broadcasting with many “readers” now turning to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to acquire the latest news stories. Social media requires journalists to get in touch with their audience, not only to acquire information themselves but also to determine what news and current affairs they are interested in.

Traditional 20th century journalists had the job of finding the news information for their audiences that was hard to find and harder to distribute. Some would even say that this was their sole purpose. If it weren’t for journalists, the average citizen was unable to gain insight into an event that was happening in the next town, least of all on the other side of the world. The expectations for the journalists were to report the important stories and deliver it to the public through newspapers, radio and TV. And this meant there was some level of trust between journalists and their audiences. The public trusted journalists and journalists reported pertinent information of the day. Therefore it was safe to assume that whatever event was happening, it would be broadcasted to the rest of the world (I use this term loosely).

However, over the past two decades, the rise in popularity of the Internet has spurred on the active changes in how journalists conduct their work. People now have choices in receiving the news and more importantly they are no longer passive in acquiring the information that is of interest to them. Journalists who simply report information are not satisfying the audience. Today, the audience expects to have a choice in what information they choose to read and most believe they should have an active role in contributing to the content and voicing their opinions. There is no longer a concept of “media professional” that determines what the audience’s needs are in readership.

These days, journalists are assumed to be “out of touch” and need to establish a “partnership” with the audience rather than “preaching”. The idea of “social journalism” is what the audience is offering as a benefit to journalism, which involves listening to those who have something to say. Thus, it is a change from the one-way communication to a community of communication. Research has found that 15% of news-related information is acquired via social media and as a result, mainstream media is using social media as a tool to market and distribute their information. The culture of today (thanks to our friend, social media) is about listening and responding. Therefore the “savviest” journalists are those using social media to create relationships and to listen to others. This new style of journalism is a journalism of “partnership” with an audience who can add content and opinion to the news and issues. 

Unfortunately, for journalists, journalism has morphed and formed into a type of writing that anyone can create. The simplest forms of it, such as tweets, can be sent out in less than a second and only include 140 characters. The way in which we use social media and journalism today impacts on what people read and how they read or listen to news. Journalism has moved from its generic form or journal articles and newspapers to things more closely connected to social media. Journalism has been around for a long time, but today they are getting more involved with platforms such as Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and all forms of social media.

The impact of the use of social media with broadcast journalism, specifically, is the connection that the journalists are having with their readers. They are getting the readers involved to express their opinions, making it more engaging for the reader. Less people are actually watching the broadcast journalism first hand, instead they are hearing about it through social media. And Twitter has emerged as a powerful news tool, alerting the world to events within minutes – or however long it takes your fingers to type out a tweet. Even Snapchat has included a news type section to watch via the platform, getting the users more involved and informed about things happening around the world. Through social media journalist will find their way back to connect with the audience and journalism will become again a trusted partnership between the journalist and the audience.

Written by: Lorian – social media manager

For more on digital journalism in the case of Syria:

Platt, E, 2014, Citizen journalists playing a crucial role in Syrian war, accessed 4 May 2017, http://time.com/3481790/syria-journalism-kobani/

Lowe, C, 2012, Syria: A War Reported By Citizen-Journalists, Social Media, accessed 4 May 2017,  

 <https://www.rferl.org/a/syria-war-reported-by-citizen-journalists-social-media/24630841.html>

Baraniuk, C, 2016, Citizen journalism is playing a crucial role in Aleppo – but it comes at a cost, accessed 4 May 2017, <http://www.wired.co.uk/article/syrian-citizen-journalists>