Rules and Restrictions in Social Media Journalism

Adam Fish June 9, 2011
4 minutes

Sivek, S. C. (2010). Social media under social control: Regulating social media and the future of socialization. Electronic News, 4(3), 146-164.

Susan Currie Sivek has written an article that bears attention for Part.Lab’s focus on internet-enabled participation, and in particular its use in political television. A new generation of young new media journalists are being socialized in the era/practice I am calling convergence capitalism–the market/mission and producer/consumer conflated period dictated by internet/television business/social projects. With its print demise, the invasion of PR, its utter necessity for democracy, and the transmedia liquidity of its practices, journalism is a great place to look at convergence capitalism. Sivek throws us great lines about the socialization of new media journalists: “Convergence, to them, won’t even merit its own name as a trend” (Civek 2010: XXXX) The article brings up an issue Part.Lab might address–Rules and Restrictions.

Every company is grasping for ways to monetize or incorporate the social graph that constellates around them. News services immediately both saw and felt the threat and possibility of social media. For all the negative criticism it gets for begging its audience to Tweet and for the consistent joke around the idea of the Wolfster tweeting, CNN has a relatively open social media policy for its journalists. Consider the options. Australia’s Sydney Star Observer and Johannesburg’s The Star have “blocked all access to Twitter for their offices. ESPN also prohibits its employees from having personal websites or social media accounts…” (Civek 2010: 154-155). The Washington Post, BBC, and Wall Street Journal all have strict restrictions that fit between these above and the subjects of my work who are extremely liberal in their encouragement of engagement between their journalists and audiences. Al Jazeera English’s The Stream has the most porous membrane separating the audience from the producer. They want us to give them ideas for the show and send them messages for inclusion in the programming. Conversely, the producers freely tweet and Facebook with their audiences. They are encouraged to do so by their higher-ups. The absence of rules and restrictions undoubtedly impacts the relationship between the firm and its productive audience.

Civek clearly thinks Al Jazeera English as seen on The Stream is the future. The strict policies at the Post and BBC are draconian and express the death throes of legacy journalism. For Civek the younger generation’s socialization into social media will eventually overcome the managerial logic of the strict control over social media use. For one, survival in this gutted knowledge industry requires adroit networking savvy by which the personal journalist’s brand trumps their business affinity. This may compel these new media reporters to ignore the rules against social media that are a necessary tool for self-promotion in a precarious workworld where they might get pink-slipped tomorrow. This is likely related to the neoliberal capitalization of the self that is discussed by my colleague Sasha David in reference to the dog-eat-dog world of Hollywood actors. Regardless, Civek believe the restriction prone news firms are on the losing side of history.

I am not sure if social media policies of openness and “independent” personal branding are going to win out. And I am not sure if I want it to. The freelancing of the journalistic workforce is not applaudable. It is a strange world in which young freelancing journalists are more concerned with gaming SEO and writing re-tweetable quips than facts, investigative depth, editorial responsibility, peer review, and transparency. The inflated price of AOL’s purchase of the Huffington Post is evidence of the hysteria around impressions to the loss of quality. Journalism is a job driven by passion, politics, and position, what might be called civic republicanism or a mix of economic and social liberalism. These new media journalists also express some inherited cultural or economic capital that helps to propel them through the lulls in political media employment. Independence and freelancing means to be able to tweet whatever you want and also means financial insecurity. Independence and freelancing means to be able to tweet whatever you want and also means financial insecurity.

Secondly, I fear independence is on its way out as conglomeration and vertical integration are on the increase in internet business and particularly in video entrepreneurship–which is one area of growth in downward trending news firms. I’m watching several news firms experiment with liberal social media policies. Current TV, in its 2005-2009 heyday, thrived on the ethos and vision of community engagement with a very open social media policy, only to minimize community involvement and amateur impact in favor of the professional creed by 2011.

Part.Lab has developed a positive theory of the tasks and resources that firms, organizations, or well-resourced publics grant to their friends and others publics for the production of useful objects. Ours is a generative model for an era of cognitive surplus and creative excess. Civek documents how news firms limit, restrict, and negate the ways their journalists engage with their co-producing audiences. Our category regarding the availability of the resource is a close fit but not as precise as it could be. Again, resource restrictions for who? Civek’s work looks at how the enterprise curtails access by its employees to its resources for community development. An analysis of tasks and resources paired with a study of rules and restrictions might help us to recognize the mounting professionalization of this field of internet-enabled participation.