Social media transforming role of press, professors say

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Social media and journalism are changing at a rapid pace, and understanding these changes will be vital, said a panel of communication professors Friday.

At the 12th-annual International Symposium on Online Journalism, journalists, editors and professors from universities around the world discussed the consequences of these changes during a series of 13 lectures held April 1 and 2. The goal of the symposium was to look critically at issues facing the journalism industry.

The symposium was put on by the Knight Chair in Journalism, the UNESCO Chair in Communication at UT and the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at UT.

Dale Blasingame, a graduate student at Texas State University, said newspapers and television stations are making admirable efforts to bring in readers and viewers, but people should not rely on those sources alone.

He said Twitter has changed the process of gatekeeping — determining what stories make it on air or into print.

“Twitter allows early gatekeepers to jump gates and deliver news,” Blasingame said.

He referred to the man who tweeted the first picture of the plane that landed in the Hudson River. The man released the picture before the media got there, and it went viral.

“Stations must go to where the consumers are and give them a reason to be consumers,” Basingame said.

Carrie Brown-Smith, an assistant professor of the University of Memphis, and Jeremy Littau, an assistant professor at Lehigh University, conducted a study and found college students mostly use Twitter for connectivity, information, expression and entertainment.

In their study, they determined that college students use Twitter to informally communicate with others, usually with people they already know.

“They see it as a way that they can talk to their friends away from authority figures,” Brown-Smith said. “They are sort of in this pseudo-anonymous space.”

Littau said young people are receptive to getting news on their Twitter feeds. But college students want to interact and have relationships with the journalists on Twitter, he said.

“News organizations are trying to think of how they can engage younger people,” Littau said.

Cory Leahy, assistant director of the McCombs School of Business, said the issues discussed during the panel are relevant to the work she does.

“It’s comforting to know that all outlets of all shapes and sizes are trying to figure it out at the same time, too,” Leahy said.

She said the journalism industry is changing, but she hopes it will continue to grow.

“There is a demonstrated desire by the wide audience of the world that information is still needed,” Leahy said. “The trick is to find the audience and be where they are and to not deliver what they want, but deliver what’s useful in a way that they will consume it.”


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