Archive for December, 2009

Agenda Building in the New Media Age

December 2, 2009

This post is part of a research project for my Public Opinion Through New Media course. It has been archived from a Nov. 23 post on the class blog.

This post and the two embedded within in it are from an exercise from my 15-minute in-class presentation detailing my research on how blogs, social networks and other new media are altering the agenda building process. Agenda building deals with how mainstream news sources decide what to cover and, consequently, place items on the public agenda.

The exercise, in which I asked student volunteers — two reporters and three tweeters — to cover my presentation, was designed to help my classmates absorb the information and, in a very basic way, to simulate the modern agenda building process. The reporters, playing the role of the mainstream media, received the following instructions:

  • After I’m finished my presentation, file a post about it on the class blog. (Can be notes/bullet points.)
  • Use any sources you wish to inform your post including but not limited to my talk, your own knowledge/insights about the subject, classmates’ tweets, any research online or otherwise you can complete in this short a time frame.

The tweeters, playing the role of new media, received these instructions:

  • Live tweet my presentation. Like the reporters, you have wide latitude as to what you can post. Summarize my statements. Highlight choice quotes. Raise a question or counterpoint. Link to relevant content/examples on the Web. Whatever you think is interesting.

Before proceeding any further, a big thank you to my five volunteers. The tweeters, as the instructions indicated, were expected to post in real-time. The stream for all three tweeters is pasted below. It can also be found on Twitter at @COM564.

Does inviting citizen journalism discredit or add credit to a news organization?

Debating the value of citizen journalism: http://www.cyberjournalist….

Since we now trust bloggers more than brands about a product , do we trust iReporters more than paid broadcaters on news?

Determining the ways young professionals use social media

What will happen to the journalists who resist new media as news platforms?

Blogs, Micro-Blogging, Comment Boards… legitimate forms of information?

Blogs and social medias have become acceptable sources for news.

We determine the news. Literally.

How will agenda building change due to new media technologies?

Given that students weren’t told of the exercise ahead of time, nine tweets in 15 minutes is pretty good. It certainly provides enough content for the purpose of this simple exercise. Tweeters latched on to my suggestions to raise questions and link to examples, both activities that take place in the real-life new media sphere.

The reporters were allowed a couple hours after class to put their dispatches together. Their posts are blockquoted below. I had the reporters post their stories on the class blog mainly out of convenience. I called them reporters and instructed them to behave as such in effort to simulate the function of the mainstream press. It’s interesting to consider whether their posts would have been different, perhaps more opinionated, had I labeled them bloggers, even if the rest of the instructions had stayed the same.

New media putting pressure on old theories
by dkennedy

With an increasing number of people flocking to social media sites like Facebook,  Twitter and various blogs for their news, scholars want to determine how that shift affects communications theory and how traditional and new media will coexist.

Steve Earley, a new media scholar with Elon University’s Master’s of Arts in Interactive Media, said new media like Facebook, Twitter and blogs continues to alter the landscape of traditional media because of its focus on an active, participating audience.

In a presentation Monday, Earley detailed why the traditional communications theory of agenda setting, which says the media tells its audience what issues to think about, has been challenged thanks to these new sites and networks.

Earley said:

  • Mainstream media such as newspapers have followed the lead of blogs in some examples of prominent news stories.
  • Social media represents a good way for journalists to gain access to eyewitness accounts of news events.
  • Journalists have become more open to using tools like blogs, Twitter and Facebook.
  • Blogs are typically cited as having little original reporting, but this is not the case with all blogs.

Mainstream media and blogs tend to contribute to the power and reach of each medium because they both feed off one another.

New media tools are weakening traditional media because they are leapfrogging the old sources and setting the agenda themselves.

Earley highlighted two ways for the traditional media to mix well with new media:

  • Account for the increasingly prominent audience and its viral power.
  • New media isn’t one way, and involves complex interactions between different media and the audience.

Live tweeting of this event can be seen on its Twitter page.

Agenda Building: Don’t Watch the Players, Watch the Game
by dhollander

The bedrock of agenda setting theory rests in the assumption that the media does not tell us what to think, but instead dictates the issues we should think about.  Agenda setting theory presupposes that the media is capable of setting the public agenda and identifying the events and issues that the public, in turn, deems important.  But what forces are behind the media’s agenda?

Agenda building theory explores that question.  It would be wrong to assume that the media are impervious to influence.  Surely traditional media outlets take their cues from other institutions and forces and frame their coverage around issues that are perceived to be visible or controversial.

Current technology trends now force us to ask how the advancements in new media and the growth in popularity and credibility of citizen journalism that those advancements have enabled have impacted the agenda building process.

There is no question that new media is altering the traditional course of agenda building.  In many cases, blogs and other social media platforms have evolved into legitimate, respectable and recognized news sources.    Look no further than the coverage of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the terror attacks in Numbai or the recent elections in Iran as evidence of a shift towards the use of microblogging and social media on the front lines of news distribution and consumption.

Not only are these platforms being used more often as means of legitimate news transmission, but most importantly, they are being accepted more readily by a public thirsty for real-time event coverage.  A generation of digital natives is on the threshold of adulthood, and new media stands to continue to gain acceptance and credibility.

Though the potential of social media to influence agenda has yet to be quantified through observation and data, it is self-evident.  New media technology is undoubtedly altering the agenda building procedure.  Yet there exists an inherent contradiction in the effect it is having.  It is capable of amplifying traditional constructions methods through the rebroadcasting and reinforcement of existing topics.

The blogosphere has been described as an echo chamber capable of turning up the volume and resonance of a particular issue or topic.  At the same time, new media affords customization and choice to individuals and their news consumption, and is therefore capable of weakening the mass agenda building process.  Individuals can now craft their own personal agendas that are most comfortable and convenient for them.

One thing is certain.  No one entity or faction is alone responsible for agenda setting or building.  The days of the media as a monolithic entity are long over.  No longer are public relations operations able to control messages.  Social media is giving the PR agency a run for its money when it comes to setting the agendas that are adopted by traditional media outlets.

The agenda setting and building processes are being fueled by a new mixture of old and new media.  As a result, a journalistic ecosystem has emerged in which analysis of the exact nature of the individual inhabitants is less important than an examination of the nonlinear relationships between them.  The byproduct is a  “mainstream” media that is an overlap of factions comprised of old and new media users and consumers.

Any new model for examining agenda building must consider the interactions between media outlets that were once deemed traditional and non-traditional, as well as the crucial role that an active, participatory audience now plays in carving agenda.

In my role as newsmaker, I have reason to be pleased with the reporters’ coverage. Their pieces eloquently summarized many of my main points without a lot of filtering. Still, there is evidence of the writers interjecting their own interpretation, of intermedia agenda building and of the tweeters acting as agenda builders.

Perhaps for dramatic effect, reporter dhollander broadened — not inaccurately — my comment that journalism and public relations young professionals are more trusting of new media than their older counterparts, applying the statement to the workers’ generation at large.

The other reporter, dkennedy, extrapolated from my lecture that Facebook was one of the tools I had in mind all the times I broadly referred to social media. He was correct. I never specifically mentioned Facebook, however.

In at least two instances, the reporters may have influenced each other’s coverage. At the end of his article, dhollander alludes to myriad agendas overlapping to form what’s considered the public agenda, a point I made in response to a question from dkennedy. More directly, dkennedy told me that he consulted dhollander’s story before posting his and made a conscious effort to differentiate his piece from the other reporter’s.

I was somewhat surprised the reporters did not pick up the two new media examples the tweeters linked to, CNN iReport and That’s not to say they ignored the tweeters. Dhollander mentions credibility and citizen journalism relatively high up in his piece, two topics prominent in the tweets. Dkennedy linked directly to the Twitter stream at the end of his article. Not all readers would click on this, but those who would would receive the social media authors’ messages in their unfiltered entirety.