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Submit a Manuscript to the Journal
Journalism Studies

For a Special Issue on
Social Media Journalism and the Relationship Between its Characteristics, Constraints and Contingencies

Manuscript deadline
23 December 2022

Cover image - Journalism Studies

Special Issue Editor(s)

Jonathan Hendrickx, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
[email protected]

Michaël Opgenhaffen, KU Leuven
[email protected]

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Social Media Journalism and the Relationship Between its Characteristics, Constraints and Contingencies

Social media journalism (SMJ) has become a recurring practice in contemporary journalism. Since their gradual launch in the past two decades, mainstream media corporations and online-only outlets have been increasingly using social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and more recently TikTok to produce and diffuse native-bound news content to boost brand awareness and keep up with changing media consumption patterns. Subsequently, SMJ has in recent years emerged as a relevant research topic within journalism studies, with ongoing discussions on its unique characteristics, constraints and contingencies.

Characteristics. Around the world, newsrooms and individual journalists are embracing social media as new ways to gather (Messner & Distaso, 2008), verify (Brandtzaeg et al., 2018) and/or diffuse novel types of news content (Vázquez-Herrero et al., 2019), to interact with news consumers (Molyneux & Mourão, 2019), or to use it as personal branding tools (Hedman, 2020). By doing so, news producers become "platform complementors" (Nieborg & Poell, 2018, p. 4282) who align their practices and productions with the prevailing business, political-economic and technological logics of the digital platforms.

Constraints. Distinct technical affordances of social media platforms and so-called social media logics have been argued to disrupt traditional news selection and production criteria and methods (Hedman, 2020; van Dijck & Poell, 2013). Each platform has its own specifications and limitations, hampering cross-platform approaches and forcing media corporations and outlets to succumb to their practicalities while trying to safeguard journalistic ethics and standards (Hendrickx, 2021; Opgenhaffen & Scheerlinck, 2014). This increasingly leads to growing frustrations among news organisations (Whitehead, 2019), to a so-called "frenemy" relationship between publishers and platforms (Sehl et al., 2021).

Contingencies. Social media journalism (SMJ) is marked by evolutions in terms of boundary work, platform dependency and virtually all aspects of journalism, including education and ethics (Belair-Gagnon & Holton, 2018; Carlson & Lewis, 2019; Meese & Hurcombe, 2021; Mulrennan, 2018). At the micro level, roles and tasks of individual journalists are changing as they have to integrate social media platforms in all aspects of their daily work. At the meso level, media corporations forcefully embrace said platforms and even become platform-dependent contingent commodities (Nieborg & Poell, 2018) while vying for media users’ attention, causing new outlooks on revenue models. At the macro level, finally, trust and interest journalism as a profession shift for better or worse as new journalistic categories emerge (e.g. designated fact-checkers for OSINT verification). We also incorporate so-called ‘social contingencies’, e.g. diverse ways in which social media platforms are being deployed and appropriated across socio-political, cultural, and economic backgrounds. We welcome contributions from across the globe, explicitly those that do not (only) take a Western perspective.

While the three c’s outlined above have thus been recurring topics in recent relevant literature, surprisingly little is thus far known on how these factors interplay and mutually affect each other. This occurs organically or by force as exerted by either traditional media corporations, social media platforms, governments and (media) regulation and/or ordinary citizens and their changing media consumption behaviour. Through this special issue proposal, we wish to offer fruitful and thought-provoking contributions to the academic debate on the far-reaching role of social media platforms on journalism studies and practice, and in doing so want to gain more insight into the extent to which, for example, the characteristics of SMJ also determine the constraints, or how the contingencies actually constitute a characteristic feature of SMJ. This can be approached from either conceptual, methodological or empirical vantage points to further advance scholarly knowledge on the causes, effects and ramifications on the characteristics, constraints and contingencies of SMJ. Through explicitly seeking studies on the mutual relationships between these three factors, we actively pursue innovative confluences of existing theoretical, conceptual and/or methodological frameworks, further contributing to theory building.

Non-exhaustive list of topics

  • Novel conceptual approaches of grasping the increasingly dominant role of social media platforms in all aspects of contemporary journalism and news content production, diffusion and consumption;
  • More theoretical contributions that, possibly through empirical work, help to shine light on how the work and identity of journalists are being altered profoundly as a direct consequence of SMJ, with special attention to concepts such as boundary work, (social) media logics, and professionalism within journalism;
  • Methodological frameworks to handle the quantitative and/or qualitative assessment of designated social media news posts, including for newer platforms such as TikTok;
  • Empirical studies on the types of news content diffused via social media platforms and how they are comparable with traditional platforms such as print, TV and online journalism, with or without an overt link with news values;
  • Field studies on how newsrooms seek to incorporate and integrate social media journalism in their overall workflows and structures;
  • Regulatory framework discussions on platform dependency, privacy and security for both traditional media companies and media users, from a news content angle;
  • Differences in approach of SMJ between private and public media companies within existing market structures and media systems and cultures.

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