Popular, or trending, topics and content on social media play a significant role in local television newsrooms decisions about which stories to cover.

That’s the finding from my latest research, Forces at the Gate: Social Media’s Influence on Editorial and Production Decisions in Local Television Newsrooms, published in the Electronic News journal.

This nationwide survey of news directors at network affiliate television stations explores the impact social media is having on editorial and production decisions related to newscasts.

Other Key Findings

  • The reliance on social media content has increased the chances that newsrooms will spread misinformation. A third of respondents indicated their stations have reported information from social media that was later found to be false or inaccurate.
  • Policy has not caught up with practice. One of the more striking findings of this study is, of those newsrooms that have social media policies, nearly 40% said the policy does not include procedures for verifying social media content before it’s included in a newscast.

Lessons for News Managers and Educators

  • These findings, about selection and treatment of stories, raise a cautionary point about social media’s impact on editorial decisions. News outlets must not become overly dependent on social media as a source for stories. Focusing on topics from social media can lead the public to perceive those issues as more important than stories uncovered through traditional means. Social media is not a replacement for journalists attending school board meetings, walking the halls of City Hall or poring through the county budget, for example.
  •  A social media policy must  include processes for vetting social media content and whom is responsibility for this task.
  • Even though today’s journalism students are considered “digital natives,” having grown up with the new media tools, we cannot assume they know how to use social media in journalistic ways. At least one course in journalism programs must explore how journalists and news organizations are using emerging forms of social media. Students should gain hands-on experience by experimenting with social media for newsgathering, distribution, and audience engagement.

News Coverage About the Study

The Rise and Rise of Fake News
BBC News

Sourcing Social Media Ups Risk of Getting It Wrong
Broadcasting & Cable

TV News Stations Are Doing A Poor Job Vetting Social Media Sources

News Study Reveals Television Newsroom Social Media Policies Lag Behind
Ithaca College News

Study Reveals Social Media’s Impact on Newsroom Editorial Decisions

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