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'Getting it Right!:' How did social media transform BBC News journalism?

Abstract :

Still today at its early developmental stage, social media, which includes audience material and user-generated content (UGC), sprung at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) during the 7/7 London bombings attacks in 2005. What occurred in the newsroom and on the site of the attacks literally challenged the way the journalists produced stories for their audiences. Early in the morning, journalists were unable to access the sites of the bombings. However, in the Television Centre's newsroom (TVC), journalists started receiving texts, video and images from the site of the events, from the citizen who were witnessing what was happening at the time (Boaden, 2008). Following 7/7, the uses of social media in the production of international news stories was increasingly, equally and subsequently quantifiable at multiple levels. The 2008 Mumbai terrorists attacks, the 2009 Iranian elections, and the 2011 Arab Spring are amongst international news stories broadcasted at the BBC were the role of social media in journalism was important for the institution, not just at the UGC-level but also at the social media level which includes UGC. Questions such as how social media have changed the fundamentals of BBC journalism through the sequence of occurrences, have yet been studied in-depth in this context. This paper is the result of a larger research project asking how social media changed the fundamentals of journalism at one of the biggest transnational news organization, the BBC News -- the organizational structure, the news values and norms, as well as the corporate ideology and professional identity, all interconnected facets of its journalism fundamentals. This paper emphasis is on the news values, norms and the relationship with their audience.

The methodology of this paper based on the tradition of ethnographic research of news production processes of the 1970s and 1980s (Fishman, 1980, Schlesinger, 1978, Schudson, 2003, Tuchman, 1978), with an emphasis on the factor of innovation change on processes rather than the news production process impact on news output as suggested by those traditional studies (Domingo, 2008). It is the result of an ethnography of the case-study of BBC newsroom carried out in the first part of 2011 with an emphasis on international news production processes. I have spent 90 hours in the London Television Centre and BBC Wales in Llandaff, Cardiff researching the relationship between news production processes and social media. Indepth interview with BBC News journalists, including foreign correspondents across the world, and senior managers were also conducted during the same period. Different facets of news production has been explored during the field work. These included, but are not exclusive to: the news production processes, the organizational setting, the integration of social media within journalism, the sources journalists use, the description of news values and the role of social media in journalism. For this presentation, how impartiality is redefined as a norm and value by BBC journalists in a social media context will been explored. A discussion of the impact of social media on journalism will follow.This is one of the first major study of social media change on journalism in the second decade of the 21st century conducted at one of the biggest news organization in the world, the BBC News.

Theoretical Orientations
This paper set itself as an alternative to the technological determinist approach to news production (Pavlik, 2000), an approach emphasizing the evolutionary way in which people integrate innovation into their practice rather than the process which led to the appropriation of new technologies and the study of its context. It therefore takes an active role in the social constructivist debate emerging as part of the debate on the future of journalism and as a response to sociologist Simon Cottle call for a revival in traditional ethnographic studies of news production (Cottle, 2000). It analyzed the process by which social media has been interpreted within the organizational context of the BBC. While, unlike most researches in the field, the major research project focuses on the dimensions of news production process which includes the organizational, the news values and norms, as well as the professional identity and corporate ideology, this paper emphasizes how news values and norms, more particularly the concept of impartiality, is articulated around social media. It suggests that social media appropriation and interpretation is the result of homogenous aspects of social media as well as homogenous and heterogeneous aspect of communication practices in the industry and the BBC itself. In addition, it argues that while trying to position itself in the media sphere as a public broadcaster in the social media turn, it had the impact of fragmenting the public sphere.

Research Orientations
The main thesis, in line with Pablo J. Bockovski (2004) findings of newspapers and their move towards online communicational platforms, is that social media emerged by merging established and transient organizational structures (Paulussen and Ugile, 2008), corporate ideology and professional culture (García Avilés and Carvajal, 2008, Robinson, 2010, Singer et al., 2011) with news values and norms (Van Dam, 2011, Williams et al., 2011) specific to the organization and the field of journalism. This occurred in the organization as a reaction to major trends illustrated in breaking news events that have shaped the evolution of social media within the organization as well as a reaction to competition and societal pressures that the BBC has internalized, institutionalized and influenced. This paper highlight more particularly the research result that the core of the BBC ideology, independence and impartiality, has contributed in shaping the attitude towards social media within the organization in this context. As a result, the organizational (re)configurations and control mechanisms will be discussed and analyzed from the perspective of the organizational context of the BBC News.
Document type :
Conference papers
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Submitted on : Tuesday, July 23, 2013 - 4:56:32 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 2:03:28 PM
Document(s) archivé(s) le : Wednesday, April 5, 2017 - 3:55:41 PM


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  • HAL Id : hal-00839288, version 2



Valérie Belair-Gagnon. 'Getting it Right!:' How did social media transform BBC News journalism?. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. pp.235. ⟨hal-00839288v2⟩



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