How social media’s changed journalism: Book review

Sam Mejias Published August 13, 2018 in Journalism:

https://doi-org.du.idm.oclc.org/10.1177/1464884918786638

Article information 

Young people and the future of news: Social media and the rise of connective journalism, Lynn Schofield Clark & Regina Marchi, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. 305 pp. ISBN 9781316640722

How has social media changed journalism? This lively and engaging book by Lynn Schofield Clark and Regina Marchi revisits a familiar question by exploring young people’s news seeking, sharing and making practices, linking these highly mediated and dynamic processes to the development of their civic and political identity and participation. The authors draw on 10 years of ethnographic research with American young people of high school age to investigate questions of news consumption, dissemination and production in the digital age that – while particularly relevant for young people whose formative media environments have been shaped by the emergence and supremacy of digital platforms – also speak more broadly to the reality of contemporary news media ecologies across generations.

Following Bennett and Segerberg’s (2012) popular concept of connective action logic, Clark and Marchi propose extending this collective action frame to the field of journalism through the notion of connective journalism. Explicitly adopting the radical user perspective advanced by Ike Picone in order to ‘help understand what journalism is, [and] what it could (or should) be in relation to the lived experiences of all of our young people’ (p. 7), the authors argue that the affective and networked possibilities of social media have decentred the primacy of legacy media for news curation, creation and political influence. The result is connective journalism, a new form of journalistic process and practice that foregrounds the role of individual sharing, self-insertion and news making in shaping the consumption, circulation and production of news by young people. The theoretical basis for this argument relies on framing journalism primarily in two ways: in terms of its users and in terms of their sharing practices, linking these practices to the formation of what Zizi Papacharissi has termed affective publics. Connective journalism moves past traditional journalism’s ‘telling of the story as the final step in a communicative process’ (p. 54) to an ‘emotionally driven sharing’ (p. 199) that focuses on a ‘solutions-oriented outcome to storytelling: now that we know this story, what should we do about it?’ (p. 54).

The book, which is expertly written and draws on a wide range of theory and research in media and communications, sociology, citizenship and democracy, is structured with a nod to the essential selectivity the authors foreground in youthful news consumption and distribution, offering non-linear ways to dip in and out of discrete areas of interest according to individual preference. Chapters 1 and 2 outline the theoretical and empirical arguments underpinning the book, reviewing the trajectory of journalism in the social media age and articulating a connective journalism conceptual framework. With a particular focus on the widening gap in trust between young people from marginalized populations and legacy media, Chapter 3 shares young people’s stories of frustration and aspirations for a more inclusive and productive journalism with salience to their lives. Chapter 4 reviews notions and practices of ‘youth-oriented’ news, identifying structural barriers to youth participation in the news, before turning in Chapter 5 to explore case studies of youth engagement in news sharing through self-insertion (via witnessing and outrage), leading to the formation of affective counterpublics. Chapter 6 presents findings from the research highlighting youth citizen journalism practices suggestive of connective journalism’s influence on political participation. The book concludes in Chapter 7 with a range of helpful, if familiar, recommendations for supporting the development of young people’s media and journalistic competencies and opportunities, including through enhanced media literacy education and through a shift in focus by legacy media on engaging young people as active citizens.

At the heart of Clark and Marchi’s argument is the idea that what individual and collective groups of young people do within contemporary media spaces and across the diverse platforms on which news is shared has significant implications for their future civic and political engagement. Young People and the Future of News is therefore not simply intended to map the changing nature of youth encounters with journalism in an era of identity- and social-network-driven information communications. It seeks also to assign a sense of political agency and momentum to the choices young people make about news sharing and making, as a way of acknowledging and supporting the renewal of democratic participation through new forms of journalistic practice. The book argues that connective journalism represents ‘an important avenue through which individuals can recognize what is socially shared and decide when, how, or whether to pull together to achieve collective goals’ (p. 195). Thus, Clark and Marchi are keenly aware of the close links between young people’s individual and socially mediated interactions with news, the communities and contexts in which their encounters with news are embedded and how the choices they make about what to do with that news – share it, comment on it or remix it – are an important part of a community building process, which the authors believe ‘creates a way for us to think about who we are as a community and as a public, and how we might want to go forward together’ (p. 5). In a media ecology in which information overload has led to both structured and organic forms of agentic news consumption and circulation, Clark and Marchi offer a significant and persuasive contribution to knowledge with their theory of connective journalism, which points the way towards a future where journalism’s contribution to an emancipatory and democratic politics is both expanded and renewed.

Reference

Bennett, WL, Segerberg, A (2012) The logic of connective action. Information, Communication & Society 15(5): 739–768. 
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