Who Tweets Most? Journalists and Social Media

January 9, 2014 • Digital News • by

How do professional journalists use social media? With enthusiasm, caution or skepticism?

Digital Journalism, the newly-launched journal of Taylor & Francis Group which focuses on the transformation of journalism in age of digital technology has published two studies that show significant variations in the way reporters use social networks .

Ulrika Hedman and Monika Djerf-Pierre looked at Swedish journalists’ professional and personal use of social media.

Their study looked at the social media habits of 2,500 Swedish journalists, with data from the Swedish Journalists Surveys, conducted at 5-years intervals.

The findings indicate three distinct patterns of social media use among journalists, which authors divide as skeptical shunners, pragmatic conformists, and enthusiastic activists.

The first group of journalists, who make up between 10 percent and 15 percent of the sample tended to be to be highly skeptical about social media and completely avoided the use of networks such as Twitter or Facebook. The typical skeptical shunner appeared to be an older journalist working in the print media.

Most journalists are pragmatic conformists. This group is made up of journalists from all age groups and workplaces who used social media regularly, but were selective in their usage. In particular, they go on Twitter and read blogs to seek information and for ambient scanning but rarely post on social media themselves. The main characteristics of this group are ambivalence and pragmatism. Part of their motivation to spend time on social media came from a perceived peer pressure to stay up to date with the current trends. And while they appreciate the opportunities provided by the social media, pragmatic conformists shown a degree of uncertainty about the virtues of audience adaptation, personal branding, and the increasing fusion of private and public spheres.

Finally, the study established a crowd of enthusiastic activists. Still a very small group of less than 5 percent, it is unsurprisingly comprised of younger journalists working with digital and cross-media platforms. Respondents in this group were found to fully embrace social media. They used them for information seeking, networking, personal branding, and collaboration. These enthusiastic activists shared the most fundamental beliefs about the profession with the other groups, but they also they have a strong conviction that journalism as a profession must undergo profound changes because of social media.

It is worth noting that Swedish journalists tend to be strongly unionized: 85 percent of all employed journalists and nearly 50 percent of all freelancers are the members of the Swedish Union of Journalists: the membership is a sign of strong professional identity shared by the members.

A second study by Agnes Gulyas is a comparative examination of the influence of professional variables on journalists’ uses and views of social media in four countries. It investigated journalists from Finland, Germany, Sweden, and the UK. The data for the analysis was drawn from an online survey of 1,560 journalists (Finland – 448; Germany – 189; Sweden – 256; UK – 667). First, the study set out to find the differences between four countries in the patterns of use and the views on the impact of social media. Second, it looked whether the factors of media sector, length of professional career, and size of organization influenced the use and perception of social media in four nations.

The findings shown that journalists from the UK held more positive attitudes toward social media and used them more extensively than journalists in Germany, Finland, and Sweden. Journalists in these three countries tended to have similar patterns in the use of social media, although German journalists tended to hold the most negative opinions on the effects of social media; something that can probably be explained by existing journalistic culture and established media systems which influence how fast social media are adopted.

The media sector variable was relatively important in the UK and Finland, but not in Germany and Sweden. The length of journalistic career and the size of organization were proven to have overall little influence on the patterns of use and views on social media. Interestingly, specific groups within media sectors were found to favor distinct uses of social media. Thus, broadcast journalists opted more for audio/video-sharing social platforms, while online journalists, as well as freelancers, were more likely to keep a blog. For the latter, blog can clearly be used as a tool of self-promotion. Yet, microblogging – a vehicle for fast information exchange and breaking news – was most popular among the journalists from the large media organizations.

In general, the findings show that the existing journalistic culture is important in how social media are being adopted by the media professionals. The relative insignificance of professional factors indicates that there are a great number of other variables which need to be studied further.



Hedman, Ulrika & Djerf-Pierre, Monika (2013): The social journalist. Digital Journalism 1(3). In: Digital Journalism 1(3), p. 368-85 (free access).

Gulyas, Agnes (2013): The influence of professional variables on journalists’ uses and views of social media. In: Digital Journalism 1(2), p. 270-85.


Photo credit: Felix Huth / Flickr Cc

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