In the days of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and even Peter Jennings, the reporter served his or her community as the conduit through which all important information passed.
Those days are over.
Not only do consumers have a multitude of channels through which to get their information —literal channels, like radio and TV stations, in addition to newspapers — the floodgates of social media make it possible for any person to obtain any kind of information of personal interest and cut out anything that fails to capture his or her attention or goes against an enshrined political view.
Journalists are “not the only gatekeepers anymore,” said Logan Molyneux, an assistant professor at Temple University. Journalists used to rely on their news judgment skills to determine the information people read in their newspapers, heard on their radios or watched on the evening news. “Now we have newsmakers making their own gatekeeping decisions about what they want to put into the public eye or what they want fed to journalists. It’s difficult to measure how much one gatekeeper is influencing a larger conversation.”
Add social media into the mix and it’s a brand new world. Journalism students and those just starting out in their careers are encouraged to have a personal website that acts as a kind of online portfolio for their work. “It’s not just good for getting a job, but it’s good practice for when you’re an active journalist,” Molyneux said. “You want to build a reputation among your community and be seen as an expert on something.”
But lines start to blur when journalists start to add social media layers to their personal branding and platforms.
Between the party conventions and the 2012 general election, Molyneux and a colleague monitored the Twitter feeds of 430 political journalists, to see what kinds of information they posted on social media.
“Journalists use Twitter very differently than they would use their polished news products in television or print or even online,” he said. “They tend to include more opinion, more humor and elements of what a colleague and I have started calling personal branding in journalism.”
For example, journalists are supposed to have no public bias or opinion in the subject matter they cover, yet Molyneux’s research found that roughly a quarter of the tweets sent by those political journalists had some opinion to them.
Most of the tweets that portrayed opinion were things the reporters had retweeted, a distinction Molyneux found particularly interesting.
“From an audience’s perspective, it’s all part of the same stream,” he said. “Whether a journalist is tweeting in his own voice or passing along information from somebody else, it’s still coming from the same person. As an audience member, I’m not really parsing out, oh, he just retweeted that. It’s all just part of the conversation.”
Many journalists might have a caveat in their public social media profiles that retweets aren’t endorsements, but whether readers acknowledge or take that to heart is difficult to determine.
“I don’t think, at least from the audience’s perspective, you [as a journalist] have no responsibility for the things you retweet,” Molyneux said.
On this week’s It’s All Journalism podcast, Producer Michael O’Connell talks to Logan Molyneux, an assistant professor at Temple University, about his research looking into how journalists are using social media to cover the news and build their personal brands. They also discuss whether saying “retweets are not an endorsement” in your Twitter profile really matters or not.