Social Media: Redefining Journalism

The new wave of journalism: the world in a tweet

“I saw on Facebook/Twitter/Weibo…” is a term frequently heard in conversations nowadays. Social media platforms, which were originally developed as tools for social interaction, have become a vital source of information. Especially when a major event such as an earthquake happens, the first reports come more often from micro-blogging services or other online media, rather than traditional mass media. “Journalism, which was once difficult and expensive to produce, today surrounds us like the air we breathe.” [1] When we log on to Twitter, we are immediately surrounded by all kinds of news posted or retweeted by twitters we follow. Undoubtedly, social media has changed how we perceive journalism.

Social media: redefining journalism

As Deuze [2] claimed, “journalism as it is, has come to an end.” The perhaps most important revolutionary change that social media has brought to journalism, is that it enables all users to collect, communicate, share and display news and information, and so encourages  “citizen journalism” or “participatory journalism”. Thus social media has blurred the line between audiences and journalists, producers and consumers. “People formerly known as the audience” [3] are no longer just passive receivers of news and information, but also active participants in the production and dissemination processes. The term of “prosumer” or “produsage” is used to describe this phenomenon [4]. Moreover, social media has extended the affordances of previous modes of linear communication in journalism by combining one-to-many and many-to-many communication modes that are public, archived and searchable [5]. These changes have lead to “a new model of journalism, labelled participatory journalism”[6]. According to a study on news habits in the US conducted by Pew Research in 2010 [7], 37% of Internet users, or so-called “news participants”, have actively contributed to the creation, commentary, or dissemination of news. Thus we can see that the trend towards a more participatory media ecosystem is evident. In a word, social media has redefined journalism from a one-way asymmetric model of communication to a more participatory and collective system [8].

Citizen journalism vs. professional journalism

The shift in the relationship between journalist and audiences also raises the question of who can be described as a journalist. As the motto of Ohmynews goes, “Every Citizen is a Reporter”. In social media, everyone can report, comment and share news and be part of the news process which used to be exclusively performed by professional journalists. However, this does not necessarily mean that every citizen journalist can “produce journalism within the establishment of accounts and analysis through narratives, with the aim of providing accurate and objective portrays of reality” [9]. Although social media platforms, especially the microblogging services allow instant and up-to-date news and information, they cannot compete with the traditional press or broadcasting media in terms of objectivity and quality. How can we find the truth about a certain event, when there are tens of thousands of different fragmented pieces of news about it and there is no support in the form of selection, organization or interpretation by professional journalists? This is the challenge citizen journalism is facing. As Overholser [10] argues, some ingredients of professional journalism such as accuracy, proportionality and fairness seem to be missing from the social networks.

Social media to traditional news organizations: a curse or blessing?

There used to be a hot debate around the issue of what social media means to traditional news organizations. For some news organizations, especially newspapers, the outlook seemed grim. Some even feared that social media would replace journalism. But today, not only scholars but also news organizations see more of opportunities than challenges in social media. For instance, Stassen identifies several major advantages of using social media: audience research, story generation, content promotion, community building, customer service, and sustaining and broadening attention [11]. I believe the way forward for traditional news organizations is to take advantage of its professionalism to deliver news that is informative, accessible and of high-quality, while at the same time to make use of social media to provide more interactive, customized content to attract consumers.


  1. Hermida, Alfred. 2010. From TV to Twitter: How Ambient News Became Ambient Journalism. M/C Journal, Vol. 13, No.2.
  2. Deuze, M. 2007. Media work – digital media and society series. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  3. Rosen, Jay. 2006. “The People Formerly Known as the Audience.” Pressthink, 27 June 2006.
  4. Bruns, Axel. 2008. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage.  New York: Peter Lang.
  5. Hermida, Alfred. 2010. From TV to Twitter: How Ambient News Became Ambient Journalism. M/C Journal, Vol. 13, No.2.
  6. Domingo, David, Thorsten Quandt, Ari Heinonen, Steve Paulussen, Jane B. Singer and Marina Vujnovic.2008. “Participatory Journalism Practices in the Media and Beyond.” Journalism Practice2.3 : 326-342.
  7. Purcell, Kristen, Lee Rainie, Amy Mitchell, Tom Rosenstiel, and Kenny Olmstead. 2010. “Understanding the Participatory News Consumer.” Pew Internet and American Life Project, 1 March 2010.
  8. Boczkowski, Pablo. J. 2004. Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers. Cambridge:  MIT Press.
  9. Hermida, Alfred. 2010. From TV to Twitter: How Ambient News Became Ambient Journalism. M/C Journal, Vol. 13, No.2.
  10. Overholser, Geneva. 2009. What is journalism’s place in social media? Nieman Reports.
  11. Stassen, Wilma. 2010. Your News in 140 Characters: exploring the role of social media in journalism. Global Media Journal African Edition, Vol. 4 (1).

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