Omnipresent journalism, digital native media, sensational headlines and the reluctance to comment on news stories were topics covered by scholars’ presentations at ISOJ

The second research panel at the International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ) on Saturday, April 16, included topics such as digital native media, omnipresent journalism, sensational headline writing and the “spiral of silence” possibly impacting online news forums.

Kathleen McElroy, assistant professor at Oklahoma State University, led the discussion.

“This is industry meets theory and theory meets industry and they both collide and it’s awesome,” McElroy said as she opened the session.

Research Panel
L to R: Burton Speakman, Danielle Kilgo, Zhaoxi Liu, Hans Meyer, Lu Wu, Kathleen McElroy (Mary Kang/Knight Center)

First to present was Lu Wu, from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who spoke about her research titled, “Did You Get the Buzz? Are Digital Native Media Becoming Mainstream?” This study looks at organizational forms of digital native media to see how much they adopt organization forms of traditional media to help establish themselves and build a trustworthy news brand.

“In other words, do they mimic what traditional media are doing in their daily operations,” Wu said.

She described several internal, embedded indicators that may show how much digital native media may be imitating traditional news media: more sources per story, a greater number of official sources, more hard news than soft news and more political news in a hard news format.

From her analysis of 912 BuzzFeed articles over more than eight years, Wu found a sharp increase in these indicators. Total sources, official sources, hard news and political hard news all increased, especially in periods after 2012.

The takeaway, Wu said, is that although it is still in the initial stages of trying to build a reputable news brand, BuzzFeed is making progress in adopting routines that are reflected in its daily news production.

Zhaoxi Liu, of Trinity University, presented her study, “Toward Omnipresent Journalism: A Case Study of the Real-Time Coverage of the San Antonio Spurs 2014 NBA Championship Game.”

Liu spent eight weeks doing field research in the San Antonio Express-News newsroom, which included when the San Antonio Spurs won the NBA championship. She followed a reporter during the championship game to analyze how the newspaper and its online outlets covered the event.

“I really wanted to see how the real-time coverage was unfolded by a legacy media organization,” she said. “With that, I tried to advance the concept of omnipresent journalism.”

From her observations, she found the Express-News went through three rounds. The first was live tweets from not only the arena but also locations around San Antonio where fans were watching the game. A reporter would walk in a bar, take photos of fans and post to Twitter.

The second round was on the paper’s website, where content from reporters would be added to photo galleries and live blogs.

Finally, the best content would be turned into vignettes for the print edition and pulled out for individual stories.

“As such, in terms of a news organization practice, it’s a three-round routine basically,” she said.

Danielle Kilgo, from the University of Texas at Austin, presented research conducted with her UT Austin colleague Vinicio Sinta. Their paper, “6 Things You Didn’t Know About Headline Writing: Sensational Form in Viral News of Traditional and Digitally Native News Organizations,” was rooted in exploring clickbait and what makes news viral.

As they began exploring sensationalism, they found it could be split into “content” and “form,” which is a continuation of prior research on broadcast news. This study focuses on form sensationalism, which is found in structure and presentation/style, and specifically how it applies to headlines.

Kilgo said they found four sub-forms of how sensational headlines can be written: personalization, listicles, forward referencing and soft news. From a content analysis of 597 of the most viral news stories from 2014 (based on overall likes, comments and shares on Facebook) in both traditional and digital native media, Kilgo said the majority of headlines used a soft news form of sensationalism.

In addition, the difference between the types of sensationalism used by traditional and digital native media was very stark: digital native media used listicles heavily while traditional news used soft news the most.

Of their findings, the key was that there is a significant relationship between the sensational form of headline writing and potential virality.

“This may be something you did know but now you empirically know. Ultimately, this gives us a key,” she said.

The final presentation was by Hans Meyer on his work with Burton Speakman at Ohio University, “Quieting the Commenters: The Spiral of Silence’s Persistent Effect on Online News Forums.” Meyer started by addressing his gratitude to be speaking to a group of mixed occupations.

“It’s rare that we as scholars get to address the industry and I appreciate every chance we get,” he said.

Meyer and Speakman’s work centered on why many people don’t comment at the end of news stories, specifically following the spiral of silence theory, which suggests people will likely keep their opinions to themselves if they perceive those opinions to be at odds with the majority.

Through a survey of 1,000 people across the United States, they gathered data to understand why people read comments and post comments.

Their findings indicate the spiral of silence exists, or more specifically, persists. Of those surveyed, 18 percent never comment, 57 percent rarely comment and 25 percent often comment. They also asked users why they may, or may not, comment and found four key reasons:

  • The story’s point of view does not match theirs.
  • The point of view of other comments don’t match theirs.
  • They don’t feel strongly about the topic.
  • The other comments have an aggressive tone.

The researchers’ takeaway from their data is that users feel isolated, are aware of procedures to eliminate anonymity and notice moderation of the comments section. Their suggestions for news organizations is to get involved in creating communities with their readers.

“Readers really do notice when they are involved. But don’t take it so far that it’s hard to put a comment,” he said.

All of the ISOJ research papers can be viewed at the ISOJ Journal Multimedia site.

The 17th ISOJ was held April 15-16 at the Blanton Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. Video from both days can be found here in English, and here in Spanish.

The 18th annual ISOJ is scheduled for April 21-22, 2017, in Austin, Texas.

ISOJ 2016: Research Panel, from Knight Center on Vimeo.