Researchers share developments in journalism, media practices and audience building

Watch video of the research panel discussion from ISOJ 2017.

Kathleen McElroy, associate director of the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, chaired the research panel “Diving deep into the layers of journalism, the journalism practice and its audiences” where panelists discussed new journalism practices and strategies to build audience. The panel took place during the second day of the 18th International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ) held in Austin, Texas.

Research panel (2017)
L to R: Maria Clara Aquino Bittencourt, James Breiner, Kathleen McElroy, Saif Shahin and Terry Britt. (Mary Kang/Knight Center)

Maria Clara Aquino Bittencourt, post-doctoral researcher at the University Unisinos in Brazil, conducted research on how English and Portuguese media publications structure their posts in Medium, a rising platform for journalism and journalists. The resulting paper is “An Exploratory Exercise on Journalistic Initiatives on Medium.”

Findings of the research by Aquino showed that publications in English and Portuguese were  published in irregular frequencies and long-form content were common on the platform.

Aquino’s main research finding was that an author’s popularity has the biggest influence on posts made in Medium.

“The circulation of stories on Medium depends on the number of followers of the publications and the profiles that are linked to them,” she said. “This means that in addition to a battle of recommendation, there is a new fight for the gaining of followers.”

James Breiner, visiting professor at the University of Navarra in Spain, discussed the benefits of using social capital to fund journalism ventures with the paper “Social Capital to the Rescue of the Fourth Estate: A Playbook for Converting Good Will into Economic Support.” Social capital is the value connections and networks hold, he said.

For independent journalism startups, social capital has been a key element in funding the organizations.

“You never know how much (social capital) is worth until you try to activate it. And how do you activate it?,” he said. “Well here (at ISOJ) you may ask somebody for a job, a collaborator for a project, or seek funding for a project.”

Breiner looked at eight journalism start ups, De Correspondent, Mediapart, El Español, Malaysiakini, La Silla Vacía, El, The Texas Tribune, and Nómada as examples where successful fundraising or loyal subscriptions were influenced by high social capital.

“Trust is a new currency, and these news organizations are trying to provide that,” he said.

A fundraising success included The Texas Tribune.

“(The Texas Tribune) are generating $3 million from events, corporate sponsorships, and contributions. They get face-to-face with their users,” he said. “They create this kind of social capital, a kind of loyal support. They get people willing to pay for a news medium that is doing something different.”

Some media outlets with loyal subscription bases are Mediapart and de Correspondent.

“Both of these organizations do not accept ads,” he said. “They do not accept ads because they want to enhance their position as being credible news sources (and) being independent.“

James Breiner (2017)
James Breiner presents his research on social capital and the fourth estate. (Mary Kang/Knight Center)

Yet, benefits from social capital are best created through collaboration and audience trust, Breiner said.

“Collaboration maximizes your social capital. Editorial independence creates trust, loyalty. You want loyal folks who are willing to pay,” he said. “This is currency, this is capital, you can monetize it. That’s how social capital is going to help save us the fourth estate.”

“Journalism is a public service, but it’s a public service that needs to be profitable. It’s gotta be good business,” Breiner concluded.

Terry Britt, PhD candidate from University of Missouri, studied how youth remember past news events with his paper, “The News of Your Youth: memory and Subjective Experience of Time During Major News Events.” By showing past videos of news events to 18-year-old to 23-year-old students the research subjects said they remembered visual cues from their youth.

“People were using the memory of these news events as a kind of measuring tape of how they had changed, how their their attitudes had changed,” he said.

Preliminary results of the impacts of past digital media on youth will be instrumental in documenting future changes in digital media, Britt said.

“If we’re knocking ourselves out here in 2017, creating all this great digital content, how greater the tragedy if 50 years from now it’s all gone?” he said. “That is why digital preservation is really big deal and needs to be treated as such.”

Britt is currently recruiting research subjects with older generations to see if similar results appear.

Researchers Pei Zheng, from Ithaca College, and Saif Shahin, from Bowling Green State University, looked at how Twitter impacted political discussions during the presidential debates and how the discussions were structured.

“There are basically two camps, one is surrounded by Hillary Clinton and the other Donald Trump,” Zheng said. “There is seldom interactions between the two camps.”

Looking further into the camps, Zheng and Shahlin said the biggest players in the Twitter presidential debates were not from news organizations, nor organizations as a whole.

“Opinion leaders are from individual accounts rather than organizational accounts,” she said. “Out of individual accounts, internet celebrities like YouTube bloggers were quite influential in the twitter debates. Grassroot activists also influence the twitter debate.”

Although the data only looked at tweets from three presidential debates, Zheng said the findings were relevant.

“We believe our data indicates the current political and social life in the U.S. today,” she said. “The political climate is getting more divisive (and) there is lack of just discussion.”

To watch video of this panel and all others at ISOJ, visit Facebook or YouTube. Video will be posted to shortly.

The research above is available in Volume 7 of #ISOJ, the official academic journal of the symposium. Access a PDF of the papers here.