Social media: A journalist's friend or foe? A case study of how the development of Web 2.0 and the rise of social media platforms has impacted methods of news gathering, news production and the future of the traditional journalism.

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Professional journalists and traditional news outlets have long been the main and most trustworthy source for news consumers. Journalists have been trained and are paid to remain objective, contextualise, seek the truth at all times and question the truth, to ensure the public are correctly informed and able to act democratically within society.

As well as finding news from official sources to produce and validate stories, citizens have long been turned to to develop stories. Participatory journalism is not a new phenomenon created by the rise of social networking site. Audiences are often relied upon to develop stories with eye witness accounts, verifications and opinions. However, ‘news has changed as technology has changed’ (Allan, 2007, p.13), with social media facilitating many changes within and beyond newsrooms.

"Those formerly known as the audience"

(Lewis et al., 2010, p.166)

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Since the development of Web 2.0 nearly 20 years ago, audiences have been empowered with new tools and increased access to new forms information. As well as these advances, Web 2.0 and the emergence of social media has marked a change in audience behaviours. News audiences have shifted from passive consumers of static information, to those who constantly participate and contribute to news, even producing newsworthy content themselves. The increasing and everyday use of social media has significantly changed the relationship between professional journalists and their audience. Traditional distinctions between the two are becoming increasingly blurred with the increasing use of user generated content by audiences and their increasing presence within official news reports.

Media convergence and the rise of social media platforms ‘that promote content sharing and peer-to-peer communication and large-scale distribution of user-generated content’ (Flew, 2014, p.6) has provided citizens with the ability to work both separately and collaboratively with official news sources and professional journalists. Many scholars see this development, championed by social media, as an advantage to both journalists and society. One of the main aims of a professional journalist is to correctly inform the public so that they can act democratically within society. Participatory journalism through audience comment on social media, online comment sections and interactive discussion platforms on news apps, such as the BBC 'Have Your Say' section, has increased the democratic process of news gathering and democratic content of news stories. Audiences are now able to ‘produce culture themselves and not just listen or watch’ (Fuchs, 2014, p.2), and when such content is used by official news outlets, it is highlighted how any user of social media has the opportunity to be a journalist (Allan and Peters, 2015).

Social media’s influence on the rise of citizen journalism has also had a highly positive impact on the levels of engagement with news. Participatory culture has encouraged audiences and users of social media to comment on news and create their own stories. In turn this has ultimately resulted in some journalists feeling their dominance in the field being threatened. Professional journalists now have less control over the news agendas, and the immediacy of user generated content via social media often results in citizens breaking stories before professionals. However, despite the distinction between professional and citizen journalists fading, professional and trained journalists will always be needed. They are highly trained and able to verify, filter and objectively present news, key values that most citizens will not be mindful of. Furthermore, with more and more information being available through social media platforms, the importance of trained journalists is vital. They simply have a new role ensuring citizen content is filtered through and the correct information published, they are now depended upon by citizens, including myself, for context and verifications. (Lewis et al., 2010).

“It is therefore essential to question what citizen journalism means for our morals in certain situations.”

(Watson, 2012, p.478)

'Citizen Paparazzi'

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The privacy and safety of citizens is of the utmost importance when professional journalists are researching and writing stories, especially those of a sensitive nature.In addition to being an advantage and supplement to many newsrooms, social media and the citizens using these platforms can present a challenge to the privacy and security of many. Individuals have control over their account settings and levels of privacy across the social media accounts they own, however in this ‘publicly private and privately public era of social media’ (Papacharissi and Gibson, 2011, p.75), individuals right to privacy can often be breached by citizens attempting to be journalists.

Watson created the concept of ‘citizen paparazzi’, the idea that due to the affordability of smartphones and phenomenon of social media, it has come to be a citizen’s natural reaction to film, capture and publish on social media in the wake of breaking news events, and often in the most extreme circumstances (Watson, 2012). In the case of the murder of British Fusilier Lee Rigby, the privacy of his family, friends, and most importantly, himself, was violated at the hands of a citizen journalist. Videos filmed by eyewitnesses were published on social media, featuring his body lying in the background as the attacker spoke directly to the camera phones. This footage was subsequently broadcast across multiple news platforms as it was these citizens that beat the journalists at their own games, securing the exclusive. However, as discussed by The Guardian and the BBC, this incidence, and others like it, highlights how social media can have a significantly detrimental impact on journalism when citizens try to make front page news, instead of acting compassionately and appropriately (Deuze, 2011). The increasing use and normality of social media can result in a lack of consciousness from its users, which in journalistic senses can lead to serious ethical, legal and privacy issues.

“The internet has become the most important device for revealing the truth”

(Julian Assange, 2013, speaking at Oxford Union)

Journalists simply cannot be anywhere and everywhere, citizens usually are. Social media has become an invaluable source of instantaneous information from those on the ground. It is also an extremely valuable source to journalists in the aftermath of news stories, changing the type of skills and processes used by journalists to investigate further and validate continuing stories.

In the TEDx Talk above, journalist Paul Lewis details how he used twitter as a crowdsourcing medium to research and expose the truths about two news stories he was working on. By combining the stories and contributions of many individuals, Lewis and his twitter co-producers were successful in uncovering and reporting the truth. Although some citizen journalists do not always have the best intentions, and collaborating with citizens has been labelled by some journalists as their most ‘onerous job’, with the need to validate and moderate user generated content being necessary (Williams et al., 2011, p91), instances like those detailed by Paul Lewis proves how crowdsourcing citizen journalists through social media is a new practical, cost effective and time efficient method of collecting news.

'anyone can make journalism'

(McBride and Rosenstiel, 2013, p.2)

Social media has significantly impacted the field of journalism. Professional journalists currently have access to more information, better engaged consumers and more co-producers of news than ever. Their traditional training will be vital in controlling and moderating the power of citizen content and what they publish across social media, and they now have new roles and mediums put in place for such user generated content. It is also up to professional journalists how much citizen journalism they include in their work. It is yet to be known if the rising of power news audiences is a serious threat to professional journalists, but as the power of social media rises, so does the ability for anyone to be a journalist.

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Allan, S. (2007). Citizen Journalism and the Rise of ‘Mass Self-Communication’: Reporting the London Bombings. Global Media: Australian Edition. Volume 1, Issue 1.

Allan, S. and Peters, C. 2015. Visual truths of citizen reportage: Four research problematics. Information, Communication & Society. Volume 18, Issue 11.

Deuze, M. (2011) Media life. Media, Culture & Society. Volume 33, Issue 1.

Flew, T. and Smith, R. (2014). New media. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fuchs, C. (2014) Social media: A critical introduction. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Lewis, S. C., Kaufhold, K. and Lasorsa, D.L. 2010. Thinking about citizen journalism. The philosophical and practical challenges of user-generated content for community newspapers. Journalism Practice. Volume 2, Issue 2.

McBride, K., and Rosenstiel, T.B. Eds. 2013. The new ethics of journalism: Principles for the 21st century. Washington, DC: CQ Press, an imprint of SAGE.

Oxford Union. 2013. Julian Assange | Sam Adams awards | Oxford Union. Online video. Available from: Accessed on 24th March 2016.

Papacharissi, Zizi and Paige L. Gibson. 2011. “15 minutes of Privacy: Privacy, Sociality, and Publicity on Social Network Sites.” In Privacy Online: Perspectives on Privacy and Self-Disclosure in the Social Web, edited by Sabine Trepte and Leonard Reinecke, 75-89. Heidelberg and New York: Springer.

Watson, H. 2012. Dependent citizen journalism and the publicity of terror. Terrorism and Political Violence. Volume 24, Issue 3.

Williams, A., Wardle, C. and Wahl-Jorgensen, K. 2011. Have they got news for us? Audience revolution or business as usual at the BBC? Journalism Practice. Volume 5, Issue 1.

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