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«Framing News in 140 Characters: How Social Media Editors Frame the News and Interact with Audiences via Twitter Ben S. Wasike University of Texas at ...»

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© 2013, Global Media Journal -- Canadian Edition Volume 6, Issue 1, pp. 5-23

ISSN: 1918-5901 (English) -- ISSN: 1918-591X (Français)

Framing News in 140 Characters:

How Social Media Editors Frame the News

and Interact with Audiences via Twitter

Ben S. Wasike

University of Texas at Brownsville, United States


The social media editor, the newsroom liaison to the digital world, is the newest

position in journalism. This study used content analysis to examine how these editors interacted with audiences on Twitter; which frames occurred within the news articles they posted via Twitter and if these two points of foci varied according to the media format the SMEs represent—print vs. TV news. TV SMEs were more personal in their interaction with their Twitter followers. They also posted more articles that carried the technology frame while print SMEs emphasized the human interest, conflict and economic impact frames the most.

Overall, all SMEs emphasized technology and human interest stories while downplaying the conflict and economic impact frames. This particular finding goes against the norm since research shows that mainstream news coverage emphasizes conflict and economic frames while readers follow disaster, economic and political news the closest.

Keywords: Content Analysis, Framing; New Media; News Values, Social Media Editor; Twitter Ben S. Wasike 6


Le travail d’éditeur des médias sociaux (la connexion avec le monde digital dans les salles de nouvelles) est le plus nouveau job dans le domaine du journalisme.

Cette étude utilise l’analyse de contenu pour examiner comment ces éditeurs interagissent avec leurs audiences sur Twitter; quels cadres apparaissent dans les articles qu’ils postent par l’entremise de Twitter, et si ces deux points d’analyse varient selon le format des médias que les EMS représentent (journaux vs.

télévision). Les EMS travaillant dans le domaine télévisuel étaient plus personnels dans leurs interactions avec les personnes qui les suivent sur Twitter. Ils ont aussi posté davantage d’articles ayant un cadre technologique, alors que les journalistes travaillant dans les journaux mettent davantage l’emphase sur les cadres touchant à l’intérêt humain, les conflits et l’impact économique. En somme, tous ces éditeurs mettent à jour les cadres technologiques et d’intérêts humain, alors qu’ils mettent moins l’emphase sur les cadres de conflit et d’impact économique. Cette découverte va à l’encontre de la norme puisque d’autres recherches ont prouvé que la couverture médiatique des médias de masse se concentre davantage sur les cadres de conflit et d’économie lorsque les lecteurs suivent davantage les nouvelles touchant aux désastres, à l’économie et à la politique.

Mots-clés: Analyse de contenue; Cadrage; Editeur de médias sociaux; Nouveaux médias; Twitter ; Valeurs journalistiques Introduction Few words better capture journalism’s latest development than Stephanie Gleason’s in an article she penned for the American Journalism Review. “Trending in journalism right now: #social media editors” (Gleason, 2010: 6).The hash tag she uses is of course not an accidental reference to Twitter’s popular method of defining keywords and trending topics. Social media editors (SMEs) can be loosely defined as tech savvy journalists appointed by news agencies to act as the newsroom liaisons to the digital world, also called the social mediasphere. They go by different monikers such as: Social media editor, social media strategist, digital editor, social media manager, social media producer, digital news editor, etc. While this position is still in its infantile stage as evidenced by the lack of consensus even on title descriptions, the SMEs’ main purpose is to connect the media agency to the digital world.

Specifically, their main functions are: to monitor the social media sphere for latest trends;

to procure relevant material for editors; to maintain the organization’s online presence; to interact with the readers and to post news articles online. Such editors include Lauren McCullough of the Associated Press, Etan Horowitz of CNN International, and Tony Pierce of the Los Angeles Times among many others. This paper examines how the SMEs perform the last two functions: audience interaction and posting news articles online.

7 Framing News in 140 Characters:

How Social Media Editors Frame the News and Interact with Audiences via Twitter Why Twitter?

Three reasons justify why Twitter in particular is worth studying as far as both SMEs and new

media journalism are concerned:

1) Twitter’s uniqueness and suitability for audience interaction: While SMEs use different social media platforms in their reporting activities, Twitter is probably best suited for interaction purposes. Its uniqueness lies in the ability it gives an SME to reach multitudes of dedicated readers in a short time and with pithy bursts of information.

Twitter allows only 140 characters per tweet and users have to write posts that deliver a quick and effective message. Additionally, SMEs (and other Twitter users) can amass large groups of dedicated readers called followers, who subscribe to a specific SME’s Twitter feed because of a specific and non-temporal reason. This guarantees a long lasting audience for an SME. In turn, the SME keeps followers engaged by posting tweets at a steady pace (sometimes several times per hour), thus cementing the relationship. This particular feature is called the tweet update speed and is unique only to Twitter. In terms of interaction, this constant and sustained rate of communication gives Twitter a clear edge over competing social media tools and even traditional modes of news delivery.

2) Twitter’s prowess as an adept news breaking tool: Three incidents demonstrate Twitter’s capability to deliver up-to-date breaking news at warp speed even in the absence of the media. Within minutes of the November 26, 2008, Mumbai, India terrorist attacks, Twitter was providing an up-to-date stream of information through the searchable tag #mumbai. This was well before any TV station or newspaper had broken the news.

Britain’s daily The Guardian describes this incident as the moment Twitter came of age as a vital news dissemination service (Arthur, 2008, November 27; Lewis, 2008, November 28).

However, it is a March 5, 2009, explosion in downtown Bozeman, Montana that provided the “aha” moment that propelled Twitter’s role as a legitimate news-gathering and distribution tool.

With no journalists on site, early reports of the explosion, which destroyed half a block while sending debris flying 200 feet, were mostly available only on personal Twitter updates. These updates included photos, descriptions from the scene and emergency information. Soon after, several media organizations were reporting based on these tweets while directing their readers and listeners to the same tweets for updates (Lowery, 2009).

Recently Twitter played a similar role in the Arab Spring, first as a news coverage tool then as a mobilization tool. Social media maven and NPR’s strategist Andy Carvin embodies the former. Starting with the Tunisian uprising in late last 2011, Carvin continually posted news updates from his Twitter account (@acarvin) on the Egyptian and Libyan uprisings (Katz, 2011, March 14). With the increased presence of mainstream media outlets on Twitter, the likelihood of the Mumbai and Bozeman scenarios playing out in a similar fashion is low. Most media outlets now have some form of presence on Twitter, ranging from USA Today (@USATODAY) to The Alaska Anchorage Daily (@adndotcom).

Ben S. Wasike 8

3) Dwindling news readership: I discuss both this factor and the increasing public distrust of media agencies in later sections of this paper. On a positive note however, these trends have been accompanied by an uptick in online news readership. Also, traditional blogs have continued to enjoy better credibility ratings than mainstream media agencies (Johnson, Kaye, Bichard & Wong, 2008; Johnson & Kaye, 2010). The above mentioned factors add impetus to the role SMEs play in contemporary media practice. It means that as the faces of the media agencies in the digital world, they are now best positioned to control how news flows into the social media sphere, how the media agencies interact with audiences in the digital world and eventually bring them into the fold. It is important to study how these SMEs interact with audiences and what framing patterns emerge in the news articles they post in the social media sphere.

Because the social media editors represent different media formats, say TV and print news, it is also wise to examine if format plays a role in terms of interaction and news framing. Hence, the purposes of this paper are: a) to determine if interaction, measured by the personalization of tweets, varies according to the media format an SME represents, namely print news and TV; b) to use media framing theory as a guide to examine the news frames within the articles these editors linked to their Twitter posts; and c) to determine if these framing patterns varied according to the media format the SMEs represent.

Defining Twitter

Twitter describes itself as “a real-time information network that connects [users] to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what [they] find interesting” (Twitter.com, 2013, May 5).

Having been in existence for about seven years, Twitter has emerged as the most popular microblogging site with estimates of anything between 200 to over 500 million active users (Chapman, 2011, March 21; Pan, 2012, February 22), most of who send about 400 million tweets daily (Tsukayama, 2013, March 21). Users post status updates called “tweets” on their profile pages, which are in turn read by their “followers” (see Table 1). With only 140 characters allowed per tweet, users have to send short, pithy bursts of information that can also contain links to stories, images and videos.

Personalization, a facet of this study, plays a crucial role in social media communication and more so on Twitter. Twitter allows an individual to build a set of dedicated and committed followers who basically make up what would otherwise be called an entourage. This means that when someone signs up to follow a particular SME, chances are that there is a level of personal interest in that SME as an individual rather than as a mere extension of a particular news agency.

This study seeks to find out how the SMEs reciprocate to these overtures from their Twitter followers through personalization.

9 Framing News in 140 Characters:

How Social Media Editors Frame the News and Interact with Audiences via Twitter

–  –  –

Blogs and Media Framing In a broad sense, framing refers to the selection of certain aspects of reality in order to make them more salient in a bid to promote a desired interpretation (Entman, 1993). Narrowly defined, media frames refer to the sense-making and interpretive packages journalists use to contextualize events by manipulating metaphors, catchphrases and images in order to prioritize some events over others (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989; Pippa, Montague & Marion, 2000). Media frames generally fall into two categories: generic and issue-specific frames. Generic frames are broad and structural themes and are limited to conflict, human interest, economic impact, responsibility and morality (Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000).Issue specific frames are more subjective. They are flexible and vary depending on the content being analyzed and they change based on the topic under study and the prevailing context (de Vreese, 2005). This study examines both the generic and issue-specific frames in the news articles posted by social media editors via Twitter.

Journalists traditionally use the conflict frame to portray adversarial dynamics between individuals, groups or institutions. They use the human interest frame to emotionalize issues and news events. Similarly, they employ the economic impact frame on news coverage to portray the impact thereof on individual players, institutions or nations. The responsibility frame connects certain events and the accompanying consequences or solutions while the morality frame emphasizes religious and morality issues in news coverage (Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000).

Ben S. Wasike 10 While media framing is commonly used to examine news coverage, there is a dearth of scholarly research as pertaining to framing and microblogging. A possible reason could be the newness of this medium, namely Twitter, and recently Tumblr. A recent study found that via Twitter, and with regional variation, most media agencies emphasize crime, public affairs, lifestyle and business news topics the most (Armstrong & Gao, 2010). While the above mentioned study did not specifically use the framing theory, its findings still indicate that there exists some similarity between Twitter and traditional framing patterns. It is important to point out that the Armstrong and Gao study only examined the content of the tweets and not the linked stories. Additionally, the study looked at the general/corporate Twitter accounts maintained by the different agencies and not necessarily those run specifically by the SMEs.

Regardless, the better portion of pertinent research has focused on framing and traditional blogs. Blogs, also known as Web logs, first emerged as online journals where people could post personal musings and thoughts. It was only after September 11, 2001, and the subsequent rise of war bloggers that the blogosphere morphed into an arena of political, academic and journalistic punditry (Gallagher, 2002, June 10). Soon after, researchers started examining the relationship between blogs and the news media (Goldman & Kuypers, 2010).

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