New research on journalism, influencers and social media

How journalists blur editorial and commercial boundaries on social media is the focus of my latest research published in Digital Journalism.

The article, “Conceptual Framework for Journalistic Identity on Social Media: How the Personal and Professional Contribute to Power and Profit,” is co-authored with Dr. Claudia Mellado of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso in Valparaíso, Chile.

In the paper, we propose a framework to analyse how journalists behave on social media, focusing on how the tensions when they act as influencers endorsing or promoting commercial products and services.

Specifically, we propose the 4Ps identity spaces on social media – professional, personal, publisher and product. The 4Ps offer a conceptual model to conceptually address the interplay between the personal and professional identities of journalists and how they interact with endogenous and exogenous factors in social media. One axis applies to the identity (de)construction of journalists in digital platforms, along a spectrum from professional to personal. The other axis applies to the elements that intersect with journalists’ identity, with a spectrum from publisher to product.

Our research comes as media organisations such as Condé Nast and News UK are exploring ways to capitalise on the influence of its editorial staff. We conclude that:

The theoretical approach of this article illustrates potential co-existing identities developed and maintained by journalists on frontstage and manufactured backstage presentations of the self on social media, as well as the exchange and interaction of different types of capitals subject to endogenous and exogenous forces that seem to move the core of what the journalistic field is structured. In examining how journalists negotiate their occupational legitimacy at times contesting institutional constraints, our conceptual framework raises vital research questions about the roles, rules, purposes, and place of journalism as a profession, given the ability of journalists to construct their own meaning of their selves on social media.

Indeed, urgent empirical research is needed on how far media organizations are or are not aware of the range of digital selves presented by their editorial staff in both frontstage and manufactured backstage performances. A key question is to what extent these organizations would accept, tolerate or condone journalists taking on influencer-type identities, given the decline of traditional revenue sources and corresponding precarious working conditions and salaries in the industry. In an environment that enables and privileges individual autonomy, self-expression, self-promotion, and status, it would be illuminating to learn if media outlets encourage journalists to market themselves, and as a consequence, their employer, to get more clicks and traffic.

Suggested citation: Claudia Mellado & Alfred Hermida (2021) A Conceptual Framework for Journalistic Identity on Social Media: How the Personal and Professional Contribute to Power and Profit, Digital Journalism. Online First, May 5. DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2021.1907203

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