Journalists often claim that social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, have become important news sources, but have they? Researchers from Charles University in Prague studied Czech media to establish to what extent traditional journalistic methods are being replaced by social media platforms. They found that, despite the growing use of digital sources, their impact on mainstream news is still relatively low.
Most previous studies into social media and news have been conducted in Western Europe and the United States. Results have so far been conflicting. The Czech study, by the PolCoRe group at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University, aimed to provide a new perspective. Instead of looking at the impact of social media during particular news events, the researchers took a different approach. Václav Štětka, the PolCoRe group leader said: “We deliberately selected a period where no elections or any known significant events took place. Our data then better reflects how Czech media works under natural circumstances.”
Tabloid newspapers refer to social media more often than other outlets
Reseachers, Václav Štětka and Radim Hladík, analysed the news sections of the most prominent Czech media: four printed media (tabloid newspaper Blesk, Mladá fronta Dnes, Hospodářské noviny and Právo); three TV stations, (public TV Česká televize; private TVs Nova and Prima); and three radio stations (public radio Český rozhlas; private radios Impuls and Frekvence 1). From April to September 2013, the team randomly (every other week) selected a total of 747 articles, each of which contained at least one reference to Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
Most references to social media were found in the tabloid newspaper Blesk and also in Mladá fronta Dnes. However, even in these outlets, the number of references were very low; references to Facebook, Twitter or YouTube occurred only every third day.
Social media were explicitly mentioned as a source of information in 58% of the 747 articles, in 38% they were the subject of the news (the news was about Facebook, Twitter or YouTube) and in 4% they were both the source and the subject.
Social media as a source were used most often by the tabloid Blesk (40% of all articles mentioned social media as a source), followed by other daily newspapers, with TV and radio stations at the bottom.
Researchers noticed an interesting difference in media attitudes towards Facebook and Twitter. While Facebook was mentioned as both a source and a subject in a similar number of articles, Twitter was quoted as a source significantly more often (in many cases as a primary source for the topic).
Social media used more in soft news
The analysis also showed that social media are used as a source – of both text and pictorial information – in topics such as sport, celebrities or crime – so-called ‘soft news’. This applies to all examined media, except for the financial newspaper Hospodářské noviny and the public radio station Český rozhlas, which used social media as a source of more serious, up-to-date news (‘hard news’).
Researchers also looked at how the selected media worked with social media information. They demonstrated this by noting which individuals were quoted from Facebook or Twitter (and YouTube, to a negligible extent): sportsmen (34% of articles mentioning social media as a source), followed by “common people” (24%), celebrities (15,5%), and politicians (15,2%).
The rather high percentage of “vox populi” could indicate that media are more open to non-elite voices. However, it has to be pointed out that “common citizens” were quoted only in connection with criminal topics and did not get any chance to comment on political or economic topics.
“The research has shown that the role of social media as a source of information for Czech media is still rather peripheral; it has also indicated that social media contribute to the trend of tabloidization of print, since they are hardly ever used as a source of hard news,” said Václav Štětka and Radim Hladík.
So it seems that no revolution has taken place in the newsrooms so far; traditional media have kept their unique position as gatekeepers.
“That does not mean that there is no space for social media under certain circumstances and that the theories stressing the transformation of a traditional model of journalism are not relevant,” said Václav Štětka. “However, in the every-day life of Czech newsrooms, the deep-rooted routines prevail.”
This article first appeared on Czech EJO
Reference: Hladík, Radim & Václav Štětka: Social media as news sources in the Czech Republic. Presented at the CEECOM 2014 conference in Wroclaw.
picture credit: Flikr Esther Vargasc