The advent of digital communication channels - especially social media platforms - has triggered fundamental changes in our media landscape. This observation in itself is nothing new. Studies such as the Digital News Report[1] clearly reveal the trends in today's consumption of online news. The study shows that citizens no longer get their news from a single or even isolated type of media. Instead, they now rely on many different media offerings - from social media platforms to podcasts to messaging apps like WhatsApp. These results are testimony to the undeniably high relevance of digital media. But in this changing media system, what is the relationship between traditional and digital media, how does it affect traditional news making concepts and what opportunities present themselves for media campaigns? This article provides insight.

Political campaigns as pioneers

The impact of high social media use is particularly impressive in the latest political campaigns - most recently, for example, evident in Donald Trump's 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns. Even before running for president, Donald Trump was a passionate Twitter user with a large number of followers. The excessive use of Twitter, including in his campaigns, had the effect that his tweets were consistently found in Twitter trends and thus constantly provided attractive opportunities for journalists looking for new stories. Despite increasingly negative coverage in traditional media, news media representatives followed his tweets and used them for stories in their news programs.

But campaigns like Black Lives Matter and #metoo have also managed to gain momentum on social platforms and thus become the focus of traditional media attention.

How can this obvious impact of social media be systematized in order to use it in media work?

The "hybridity" of the media system

"All older media were once newer and all newer media eventually get older", as Professor Andrew Chadwick puts it in the 2013 work "Hybrid Media Systems"[2]", a systematic treatment of the growing linkage between traditional and newer media. Originally from the field of political communication, important conclusions about the strategic use of social media can be drawn from Chadwick's theories.

He describes the fact that although social media platforms become increasingly influential, traditional media such as newspapers, radio and news channels do not in themselves cease to exist. They are not simply displaced or replaced by the newly emerging media, but there is a long period of transformation in which traditional media adopt the social, cultural and political practices of social media platforms. They thus go through a process of adaptation in order to maintain their influence and legitimacy in representing the public. Chadwick calls this evolution the "hybridity" of the media system. At the same time, social media platforms are also undergoing a process of professionalization, as exemplified by Twitter's introduction of an alert function for tweets containing fake news or misinformation.

The exact nature of this transformation and how it can be used especially for media campaigns to generate greater attention and influence is shown as follows:

Agenda Setting and News Values - Influencing Traditional News Concepts

In the past, it were journalists who had an almost exclusive agenda setting power. Traditional communication measures such as press releases and press conferences promised success in their appeal. In today's media system, however, the trending potential of media content is becoming an increasingly influential factor in deciding what becomes news. News shareability - referring to the likelihood of news being shared and commented on social media - has emerged as an important barometer for assessing the news value. It influences the decision of many journalists whether to cover a story - or not. Thus, in today's hybrid media system, what journalists define as news at all is changing. This is particularly evident in the political context. For example, studies of political election campaigns in the USA have found a symbiotic relationship between the candidates' tweets and the agenda in traditional media.[3].

The new openness

With the advent of social media, an unprecedented openness has emerged in our media system today. What is meant by the term "openness" in this context? The new digital media make it possible for citizens, activists and grassroots campaigns to influence and even shape the coverage in the traditional media. Through online news formats and social media platforms, they can organize themselves and independently disseminate and debate news. In this way, they become part of the news process in their own unique way. Facebook and Twitter in particular have become important tools for citizens to organize campaigns and media-relevant actions. Black Lives Matter, #metoo and Fridays for Future are clear examples of this.

How can we take advantage of this in our media work?

In order to achieve high awareness in the hybrid media system, campaigners need to understand how attention is gained, gathered, and magnified, and how stories and messages generate attention on digital communication channels. In the hybrid media system, new ways to influence emerge. Campaigns therefore need to focus on integrating both traditional and new media and leveraging their interdependency.

To do this, instead of a strict top-down communication model, a more flexible model must first be chosen, which, for example, encourages users of social media to give input and actively participate in digital campaigns. One of the most promising aspects of online communication in the hybrid media system is therefore the potential of social media platforms to mobilize people for campaigns. Depending on the topic or industry, this can undoubtedly require some courage at times. On the other hand, one should ask oneself whether a campaign that is not to be actively taken up by online communities is a good campaign at all. After all, freely available digital media such as video platforms, podcasts, social media blogs and interactive websites are effective tools for reaching and mobilizing potentially interested parties.

As has become clear so far, our current media landscape is characterized by a continued growing interdependence between traditional and new media. Although traditional media such as television and newspapers remain essential and continue to attract large audiences, new digital media is becoming increasingly important, transforming the news process in terms of agenda setting and news values of news organizations.

Anyone who wants to run a successful media campaign can therefore no longer consider the two separately.

 


 

[1] Hölig, Sascha/Hasebrink, Uwe (2020): Reuters Institute. Digital News Report 2020. Ergebnisse für Deutschland. Hamburg: Leibnitz-Institut für Medienforschung. Hans-Bredow-Institut. Download.

[2] Chadwick, Andrew (2017): The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power. New York: Oxford University Press.

[3] Conway, Bethany/Kenski, Kate/ Wang, Di (2015): The Rise of Twitter in the Political Campaign. Searching for Intermedia Agenda-Setting Effects in the Presidential Primary. In: Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Volume 20, Issue 4.

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