Agenda setting in newsgathering during anti-government protests 2013-2014 in Ukraine. Segment 1 of my thesis

Introduction (pp.8-9)

Alongside the work of professional journalists, the events in Ukraine showed a huge involvement of Internet users and media activists in reporting on the developments in the protests and the conflict with Russia. With the help of modern technologies, such as Twitter, Facebook, Ustream and YouTube, users provided evidence, shared impressions, helped in news gathering and distribution, coordinated efforts, and mobilized supporters for these causes. Social media became a hub for hundreds of grassroots initiatives that mobilized hundreds of thousands of active citizens across Ukraine and worldwide, interested in the Ukrainian events. The scale of such media activism could not be ignored by professional news organizations, and step-by-step they were accepting social media as a source in newsgathering.

The rise of social media use regarding the events in Ukraine showed remarkable numbers. Twitter,  an online social networking and microblogging service that enables users to send and read short, 140-character text messages called “tweets”, was the fastest way to learn news about the recent events in Ukraine.  In the period of February 10-March 12, 2014, 3,785,648 tweets with the hashtag #ukraine were written by users of Twitter. With the outbreak of the Crimean crisis, the interest in Ukraine on Twitter was comparable to the interest in the 86th Academy Awards ceremony. 

Massive tweeting was a joint contribution of professional news organizations and bloggers covering Ukraine. Many of these tweets had links to articles about Ukraine, written by professional journalists. Thus, tweets served as a promotion tool to engage Internet users to consume the news and analytics about the developments in Ukraine.

At the same time, a huge portion of tweets were users’ personal reflections on the events happening in Ukraine, including reactions, evidences from witnesses, messages to raise awareness about organized actions, calls for action (to sign a petition, to appeal to politicians, to fundraise money for the victims of the conflict, etc). Media organizations could not disregard such a flood of messages and journalists made Twitter and Facebook essential tools in their newsgathering. Journalists searched through keywords (hashtags), followed users who most likely were protesters reporting from the ground, followed politicians’ commentaries, and searched for experts and witnesses of events. Monitoring of social media through which users raised different issues were integrated into the informational news flow of the editions.

Protests also showed the interest of ordinary citizens in social media tools. Since the beginning of protests in November 2013, thousands of new users have registered their accounts in social media to follow events online. Researchers from the New York University noticed a rise in registration of Twitter accounts in Ukraine. It has increased from 20-40 registrations per day to 150-200 per day in the weeks following the beginning of protests.

The huge attention to social media and the Internet communication tools during the protests in Ukraine was an evidence of a convergence in today’s news consumption. For example, journalists of The New Moscow Times searched user-generated content to inform their readers about early days of the protests. The pattern of news consumption has been shifting from a monopoly of the top-to-bottom approach, practiced by traditional media in the analog epoch, to the bottom-to-top approach, exercised by users worldwide in the digital epoch. The role of ordinary users in reporting and dissemination of information is dramatically increasing, especially during events that capture global attention. Journalists are increasingly aware that bloggers can create ‘‘rolling impacts that affect the mainstream media’’, writes Bivens (2008, p.117), quoting Tony Burman, CBC Editor-in-Chief.

The relations between users and news organizations occupy the central part of my research.  I want to explore two main questions. First of all, what was the contribution of Internet users in newsgathering during the anti-government protests in Ukraine. Secondly, have users managed to bring the issues they presumed important into the public agenda by means of news organizations?  

Full text of thesis available here 

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