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Is the tail wagging the dog? Comparative study on the influence of social media on traditional media coverage of political events (TAILWAGSDOG).

In a democracy, citizens need information about politics. Traditionally, the mainstream media have been considered the key actors in providing this informational backbone of democracy. Past scholarship has consistently shown that when political events occur, news outlets convey and interpret the information for citizens, not the other way around. Yet to what extent is it possible to maintain this classic insight in the digital era? Citizens can now be more actively involved in the distribution of news content by liking, commenting and sharing news stories within their social networks. And so it stands to reason that in order to stay relevant, traditional news outlets must tailor their news to citizens' social media trends. Today, it may not only be the case that mainstream news coverage shapes social media, like a dog wagging its tail. Perhaps now the tail also wags the dog? This project will study to what extent social media influence how political events are covered and discussed by traditional media. Since social media is not a homogenous medium, I will distinguish how social media is used by journalists, politicians and ordinary citizens and how they influence the salience of topics and frames on the traditional media agenda. In other words, is there is a reversed agenda-setting and framing effect from social media to mass media? To address this question, I will map and analyze the information flows around different types of political events in four western democracies, Belgium, France, UK and the US. More concretely, in each country I will compare an expected event, such as the national elections, with a non-planned or unexpected event, such as a terrorist attack or environmental disaster. Such a comparative approach on how old and new media deal with real world events is novel and ambitious, but can immeasurably advance our understanding of political news production in the digital era.
Date:15 Nov 2017 →  14 Nov 2019
Disciplines:Applied sociology, Communication sciences, Journalism and professional writing, Media studies, Other media and communications