New Skills for the Next Generation of Journalists


News Production on Social Media: Strategies and Good Practices

The determining tendencies of the current media environment significantly impact the whole economy of news production and consumption and journalism as a profession indirectly.  Due to the expanding processes of digitalisation and convergence, the popularity of social media has increased. News is being consumed more and more online, often through social media, embedded in everyday media consumption, and adapted to user needs with the proliferation of portable smart devices.

This shift in media consumption and the technological development is threatening the boundaries of journalism, and many researchers interpret the resulting transformation as boundary work or even boundary struggle (Carlson and Lewis, 2015; Boesman and Costera Meijer, 2018).  As part of this struggle, newsrooms are moving away from traditional journalistic platforms to social media. However, this is a completely new and unfamiliar territory, both in terms of newsroom practice and the traditional skills of journalists.

To gather the best practices and to get an idea of the journalistic skills needed in this field, we interviewed leading journalists of newsrooms from Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, and Germany as part of the NEWSREEL2 - New Teaching Fields for the Next Generation of Journalists project. The interviews focused on the use of social media, including the purposes, tools and strategies used in the production and dissemination of news on social media sites in general, on Instagram in particular.

Different challenges, similar solutions

Social media content production is proving to be an important strategic tool for both public service, private and community media in terms of their own specific objectives and markets, according to the interviews.  The newsrooms interviewed face partly different challenges, so by entering social media with their professional accounts they choose the same strategy and tools to achieve very different goals. The main issue for the long-established public service news brand in Germany was that the average age of their audiences is high, and they were struggling to reach young audience segments. For the emerging, community-based, opposition news portal in Hungary, the challenge is to increase audience reach and get into the daily news consumption routine of its readers. For a private television in Portugal, the main question is how to effectively connect television and digital platforms. A quarterly non-fiction magazine in Romania that was published previously print-only, wanted to better meet the needs of its audience.

The main aim of social media content production is the same or very similar in most of the cases examined: to reach young people who are only available on the social networks, thus rejuvenating the audience, to build and increase the audience and to achieve regular visits to the various platforms (TV, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) and accounts.  Within this, the operation of the Instagram account serves several purposes, depending on the content posted there: distributing news separately and independently of the original platform, driving traffic to the website or the medium's Facebook page, where the primary news distribution takes place, improving the media outlet’s brand, or educating the audience and shaping their attitudes.

Team and resources

The interviewees all work in the field of visual and social media, in some management role. A few of them manage a large department of 15-20 people, some smaller (a few people), and some of the media interviewed do not have a dedicated social media content production team at all.  In all cases, the coordination of tasks related to the management of social media accounts and the work of journalists and editors seems to be a key issue. In certain cases, this is achieved through some degree of separation and specialisation, and in others, social media content is produced by the journalists themselves, with the help of graphic editors or motion designers. Newsrooms are trying to support their journalists to produce social media stories with a variety of solutions, including various manuals and templates for creating social media content. These formats and templates also ensure the consistency of content in terms of genre and style, which is necessary given that several journalists are producing content independently for the same platform.

Social media affordances for journalistic content

During the interviews with journalists, we mainly focused on the use of Instagram for news distribution.  According to the journalists and editors asked, one or more of the following types of content is used by each of the media outlets:summaries of articles, recommendations (movies, music, books), original stories (for example photo reportages), IGTV videos, Instagram takeovers from people invited, polls, quotes, posts that promote their other media content (newsletter, podcast, video, article) or another platform. Each newsroom has developed its own set of tools, i.e., a set of certain types of resources (e.g., native texts, own photos, own videos, emojis, infographics, illustrations, collages, mentions of other profiles, journalists or contributors, hashtags). Instagram provides certain features that can be used effectively for journalistic purposes: the so-called highlights, the swipe up option or the poll and question box in stories allow journalists both to archive ephemeral content (stories) and to direct traffic to a website or connect with their followers.

Required social media skills

According to the interviewees, there is a need in journalism education to teach skills that will help journalists to work also in social media. In particular, the need for skills in visual editing, social media management, social media analysis (understanding metrics and native tools) and general digital competences were highlighted. As branding is also an important function of these social media accounts, journalists involved in this should also be aware of the techniques involved, pointed out one interviewee. The use of social networking sites for journalistic purposes anyway requires continuous learning, experimentation and analysis of social media metrics and audience behaviour - this is the shared opinion of all respondents.

Special thanks to the interviewees: Karina Csengel (Mérce), Oana Barbonie (Decât o Revistă), Paula Oliveira (TVI24), Ondřej Šimeček (Česká Televize) and Patrick Christian Weinhold (ARD-aktuell/tagesschau)

The full reports of the study are available within the recently published NEWSREEL2 research report.

This article was written by Rita Glózer (University of Pécs).

Photo: Pixabay