How social media is redefining journalism

News is now reaching far more people through mobile apps, Facebook and other kinds of social media

How will readers access this article? Through the printed page or via Facebook, Google+ and Twitter?

That was the topic of the First Thought discussion at the 35th annual Galway Arts Festival, which sought to explore the future direction of journalism in the face of a digital revolution.

The title for the talk, Life in the Old Dog Yet, came from editorial in The Irish Times earlier this year in response to a claim from Morning Ireland that print media is a sunset industry, explained Dave O'Connell, panel chair and group editor of the Connacht Tribune.

The first question to the panel was: "Are newspapers going the way of the dodo?" Ranelagh native and Dublin City University-educated Observer editor John Mulholland said: "We know all the stories about [newspaper] circulation in retreat across the world.


Mobile apps
"We have to distinguish between news printed on paper and the journalism that we're doing. A lot of the journalism that the Guardian/Observer does isn't even in the paper; it's live blogs, audio, video, interactive and data journalism."

“It’s not really about the means of delivery, it’s about what we’re delivering, it’s about content,” added Maggie O’Kane, established journalist and documentary maker who is currently editorial director of Guardian Films.

While the economic model for newspapers is incredibly challenged, the model for news journalism isn’t broken, said Mulholland, adding that news is in fact reaching far more people through mobile apps, Facebook and other kinds of social media.

While Mulholland talked about social media as a means of delivery, Mark Little, chief executive of social news agency Storyful, explained how it uses various technologies to discover, verify and monetise what is known as User Generated Content or UGC from social media platforms like YouTube and Twitter.

National survey
The newspaper industry may require a perspective adjustment and redefinition of the role of journalism, according to Little. "In the past we were the diggers, the hacks who served up information to a passive audience.

“Today we are the managers of this overabundance of information . . . a hundred hours of YouTube video is generated every single minute,” he said.

In attendance at the talk was Dr Bahareh Heravi, project lead at the Digital Humanities and Journalism (HuJo) working group inside the SFI Research Centre INSIGHT@NUIGalway, which has just launched the first ever national survey to find out how Irish journalists are using social media as part of their job.

“Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have completely changed the notion of breaking news; anyone with a mobile phone can capture a story as it unfolds and report it directly to the world,” she said.

'Soft' news
"We want to know how Irish journalists are incorporating social media into researching, finding and reporting the news and if it has become a way to engage with their audience or verify their sources."

Similar studies have been carried out in the UK, Europe and worldwide. A 2011 report from research group Cision found that 97 per cent of UK journalists are using social media regularly for their work. However, over half (57 per cent) of the journalists surveyed agreed that social media encourages "soft" news.

The Cision survey found that journalists who use social media feel far more engaged with their audience although most used them as another publishing platform rather than a way to source or verify news.

Heravi explained that the Irish survey will help to give an accurate picture of how journalism in Ireland is adapting to social media and the data collected could support new practices to encourage more informed and accurate reporting.

The National Survey on Irish Journalist’ Use of Social Media launched earlier this month and is now open: