Discover what is social journalism, and how writers can try this popular form of journalism, with examples.
Social journalism is a hybrid media model where amateur contributors share a platform with professional journalists. High-profile examples include Forbes.com, The Huffington Post and Medium.com.
It relies heavily upon community-generated content, with professional journalists often tasked with collating, editing, and fact-checking that work.
With social journalism, anyone can submit and publish stories. However, some media outlets have filters to ensure that a particular standard is met.
There are also platforms (such as Medium.com and Linkedin) where social journalism exists that incorporates far fewer curation filters. This, in turn, leaves a question around the quality of content published and whether it can fall under the guise of journalism. It also causes some to question whether journalism is a good career.
Social Journalism In Media
Media companies like Business Insider, Forbes and BuzzFeed have used the social journalism model to increase their publication cadence and grow huge online audiences.
The editors at these companies implemented rules and requirements for social journalists or contributors. The idea is to ensure published work fits the publication’s style and that the writing is of necessary quality.
Despite that, critics of social journalism point towards a lack of cohesion within publications when writing comes from such a wide range of contributors. They also point to a reduction in brand authority when submissions come from those taking on tasks they assign themselves.
Media critic Michael Wolff touched on this when discussing Business Insider’s social journalism model, allowing many community contributions to appear on their site.
He said: “Letting “contributors” write whatever they want under your… and not having to pay them anything (is) ultimately, of course, devaluing your authority”.
Mr Wolff also argued that social journalism prevents publications from having a strategic plan. He added: “(Social journalism) is not an expression of a particular coherent vision or sensibility that people are compelled to seek out. It is, rather, running after the market instead of creating one”.
Social Journalism Examples
It’s easy to find social journalism examples on platforms like Medium.com, LinkedIn, Twitter Substack and on some popular blogs. These platforms have different barriers to entry for contributors. Some organizations prefer a ‘laissez-faire’ approach to publish content, while others have strict guidelines. Below, we look at two examples, at either end of the scale.
Medium.com – Open Social Journalism
Medium.com is a platform that sells itself to readers by proclaiming that they can “discover stories, thinking, and expertise from writers on any topic”.
Its submissions page proudly states “anyone can write on Medium. Whether you’ve never written before or are ready to create a full publication, it’s easy to get started”.
However, if anyone can write for them, then a proportion of content quality veers downwards, an issue its founder, Evan Williams, recognizes. In a TechCrunch article entitled ‘Twitter Co-Founder Evan Williams Lays Out His Plan For The Future Of Media’, Williams acknowledged the probability of poor content, he said the best content will rise above to the top of Medium.
“People are going to publish crap on Medium…. And guess what? There’s crap on Twitter. There’s crap on blogs. There’s crap on the Internet. And if we try to keep crap off the Internet, the Internet wouldn’t be important.”
“The system’s working if there’s great stuff that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day and/or gets more attention than it would otherwise.”
In this instance, it appears a ‘the cream will rise to the top’ ethos at play, with an expectation that the best content will come to the fore on Medium.com. If you want to use write social journalism on this platform, read our guide to making money on Medium.
Blasting News – Restricted Social Journalism
If Medium is at the low end of restrictiveness when it comes to submissions, then Blasting News is a platform that is at the other end of the spectrum.
It uses a series of algorithms, as well as assigned editors, to decide what gets published and what doesn’t. The algorithm first checks for plagiarism and structure, then an editor (or ‘senior blaster’ as they are called) checks the story and decides if it is publishable.
Once the story is published, metrics decide how long it remains on the site and how much exposure it gets.
The metrics check how long people spend reading a story, as they want to avoid having articles that many people click into but few read. That is because this indicates that it is a ‘clickbait’ article. If there is a mixture of behaviors, it will remain on the site but not be promoted.
Not only that, but every news article also needs at least two documented sources (either primary or secondary) to be considered for publication on Blasted News. These are each verified by their professional editorial staff.
If analytics show a mix of behaviors, the story will remain on the site, but it will be removed from any related recommendations sections. For more, check out our guide to popular Medium alternatives.
Social Journalism Removing Barriers To Entry
A critical difference between Blasting News and Medium is that the former actively views itself as a news site for social journalism. In contrast, the latter is a content publishing site where social journalism can happen.
However, both remove the barriers to entry for writers and journalists who want to work on stories that inspire and motivate them.
Andrea Manfredi, who founded Blasted News, discussed how that was his inspiration for setting up this platform. He said: “It’s very important to be very well connected if you want to have a great career in journalism which is something that I believe is not correct.”
Proponents of social journalism point towards the variety of contributions as a positive attribute. In their view, social journalism allows for more diverse voices to be heard in an industry that often offered the same stale viewpoint.
One such supporter is a renowned journalist and entrepreneur Edward Sussman, who directly responded to Michael Wolff’s critique of social journalism.
He said: “There’s no empirical evidence to support the claims of devalued authority… Actually, it was the professional Forbes.com journalists who managed to devalue the reputation of the brand, starting a decade ago.
“Unpaid expert contributors, by contrast, are writing exclusively to enhance their reputations and show off their expertise”.
Citizen Journalism Vs Social Journalism
Most of the questions around social journalism are linked to the quality of the content being published on the associated platforms. However, just like with citizen journalism, it is a form of media where different viewpoints and expertise that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day, are shared.
Of course, citizen journalism and social journalism have many overlapping features. However, a key element of social journalism is the hybrid nature of associated platforms.
Despite Medium and Blasting News having different curation rules, both work off a media model where both professionals and amateurs produce content. Those who succeed have the skills of a professional journalists.
In contrast, citizen journalism is often published and promoted on personal social media pages. For the future of social journalism to thrive, social journalism publishing platforms should safeguard against populism, misinformation, and fake news.
Without doing so, there will likely always be questions around whether content produced under this guise deserves the same respect and authority as the output from traditional media.
If you like this article, check out our guide to the best journalism tools.