The Challenges of Democratizing News and Information: Examining Data on Social Media, Viral Patterns and Digital Influence

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A paper by John Wihbey, Managing Editor of Journalist's Resource, provides a new perspective on the promise that digital technologies and social networks hold for the further democratization of media.

John Wihbey

John Wihbey

Managing Editor, Journalist's Resource

Read the full paper (PDF).

Read an excerpt from the paper in Pacific Standard: "Rethinking Viral: Why the Digital World Is Not as Democratic as We Think"

Abstract:

The advent of social media and peer-to-peer technologies offers the possibility of driving the full democratization of news and information, undercutting the agenda-setting of large media outlets and their relative control of news and information flows. We are now about a decade into the era of the social Web. What do the data indicate about changing news flows and access/consumption patterns in the United States? Are we witnessing a paradigm shift yet, or are legacy patterns reasserting themselves?

This paper brings together media industry data and perspective—from NPR, the Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal—with a growing body of social science and computational research produced by universities and firms such as Microsoft Research and the Facebook data science team, as well as survey findings from the Pew Research Center. The bulk of the evidence so far complicates any easy narrative, and it very much remains an open question if we can expect a more radically democratized media ecosystem, despite promising early trends and anecdotes. As I review the evidence, I aim to highlight lessons and insights that can help those thinking about and operating in the social media space. This paper also aims to serve as an accessible survey of news media-related topics within social science and social network analysis scholarship.

Read the full paper (PDF).

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