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“Journalists on the web 2017”: Ambivalent attitudes towards social media in research, publishing and dialogue

Social media increasingly influence the work of Swiss journalists. Through qualitative interviews, the ZHAW’s Institute of Applied Media Studies (IAM) and Bernet_PR have studied how Swiss media professionals use the social web. The interviews show that, while the journalistic profession hasn’t been revolutionised, the opportunities for research, audience expansion and consumer dialogue are being used with increasing intensity.

Between autumn 2016 and spring 2017, 21 Swiss media professionals working in various types of media and in various journalistic roles talked to the IAM and Bernet_PR about how they use social media. These are playing an increasingly important role in journalistic work. Most of the interviewees expressed ambivalence regarding this topic. Guido Keel, the scientific leader of the study at ZHAW IAM, says: “Media professionals appreciate having quick access to information and getting feedback from audiences. At the same time, they are aware of the limits and biases of social media.” 

Social media in research: Information source and contact channel

All the interviewed journalists use social media for research. Social media monitoring is a significant starting point for finding topics. Furthermore, younger media professionals in particular use their social media channels to search for – and contact – experts or eyewitnesses. Regarding their trustworthiness, however, these channels are viewed with scepticism. It is crucial that information be confirmed by a second, independent source outside social media. 

Social media in publishing: PR and new expectations

Media professionals use their social media profiles as a PR instrument. Through these additional channels they share articles and posts, thereby making them accessible to a wider audience. Strikingly, most editorial departments have no authoritative guidelines on the publication of articles. Furthermore, the interviewees believe that certain audience expectations accompany these new possibilities. For example, consumers increasingly expect video content from the online channels of radio stations and print media.

Social media in audience dialogue: Listening, asking and reacting

The interviewed media professionals especially appreciate the fact that online media offer the possibility to learn more about consumer behaviour. They find that getting feedback from audiences brings added value as well. Accordingly, more and more media outlets actively seek to engage audiences in a dialogue. Irène Messerli, co-editor at Bernet_PR, summarises the significance of social media for communication professionals as follows: “Journalists use social media to gauge public interest. The topics emerging from the online dialogue between journalists and audiences should be considered by organisations as well”, she says. While the interviewees struggle to judge which topics generally elicit the strongest responses from audiences, there is one thing they all agree on: political issues are very hard to bring across on social media.

For journalists and PR professionals

PR professionals and journalists both profit from the direct, straightforward contact opportunities offered by social media. Journalists can make use of image, sound and film material on social media platforms. Accordingly, organisations can set themselves apart from the competition if they offer high-quality interactive and multimedia content.

The classic media channels remain important for broad relevance and awareness. On their own social media channels, journalists and organisations alike can present their work and range of topics. Dominik Allemann, co-editor at Bernet_PR, says: “Online media relations is becoming an important driver for organisations’ involvement in social media. Media professionals constitute an important online audience that needs to be considered in topic and dialogue management.”

Further Information

The study, including journalist profiles and practical tips for journalists and PR professionals, is available in various formats from the publisher buch & netz (in German).

Contact: Prof. Dr. Guido Keel