How mainstream media use Twitter

A research conducted in 2011 had some interesting findings about how the mainstream news media use Twitter in their everyday news operations. The mainstream media included in this study are Washington Post, New York Times, Huffington Post, NPR, USA Today, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Wall Stream Journal, etc. Here’s some highlights of the report:

  • The news organizations were much more similar in the focus of their Twitter activity. The vast majority of the postings promoted the organizations’ own work and sent users back to their websites. On the main news feeds studied, fully 93% of the postings over the course of the week offered a link to a news story on the organization’s own website.
  • News organizations were far less likely to use Twitter as a reporting tool or to curate or recommend information that originated elsewhere. Just 2% of the tweets from the main news feed analyzed were information-gathering in nature-seeking views or first-hand accounts from readers. And only 1% of tweets studied were “retweets” that were reposted from a Twitter feed outside the organization.
  • The news agenda these organizations promoted on Twitter closely matches that of their legacy platforms. A comparison of the top stories across these Twitter feeds and across the same mix of legacy outlets reveals four out of the top five news stories were the same on Twitter as in the legacy outlets. For the week studied, February 14-20, 2011, unrest in Middle East and the U.S. economy topped both lists.
  • Individual reporters were not much more likely than the news institutions to use Twitter as a reporting tool or as a way to share information produced by those outside their own news organization. An examination of the Twitter feeds of 13 individual journalists-the most followed at each outlet studied-found that 3% of the tweets solicited information, a similar rate as the institutions overall. And 6% of their tweets were retweets of postings from outside entities (compared with 1% on the institutional Twitter feeds).

It seems that most mainstream media use Twitter as a one-way communication or promotion tool. I guess I can see why the national, mainstream media are not actively using Twitter: when breaking news happens, a national media cannot get their reporter to the scene as fast as a regional or local media; without first-hand report from their own reporters, the national media cannot just compile an article using contents solicited via social media.

About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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