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The story behind the tweet: factors that shape political journalists’ engagement with Twitter

Ottovordemgentschenfelde, Svenja (2017) The story behind the tweet: factors that shape political journalists’ engagement with Twitter. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.hh002tectxvs


Political journalists are some of Twitter’s most enthusiastic users and the platform has become one of the key social media tools in the news industry. While a growing body of research has addressed journalists’ observable tweeting practices, we know little about the considerations and strategies that underpin their activities on the platform, how these manifest themselves in their engagement, and which benefits they yield. This thesis examines US political journalists and the process of their Twitter engagement via an integrated conceptual framework that is organised by macro, meso and micro levels of investigation. On the macro level, it conceptualises the influence of organisational factors via a management of media innovation perspective. On the meso level, it uses the concepts of technology affordances and appropriation to analyse the role of journalistic routines and practices. On the micro level, it employs the uses and gratifications framework to examine individual-based motivations that drive Twitter engagement. The thesis further investigates how different socio-political environments and the type of news medium, that is, broadsheet and broadcast, moderate the factors located on each level as they impinge on journalists’ Twitter engagement. The empirical part of the study uses a mixed methods approach that combines expert interviews as the primary method with quantitative content analysis as the secondary method of (1) the Twitter profile pages of 120 political journalists and (2) 2,400 of their tweets, published during a mundane news period and the US Midterm elections in 2014. Findings indicate that journalists experience organisational influences on their Twitter engagement most prominently when their employer is in an advanced stage of innovation implementation and Twitter use has been formalised on an institutional level. The empirical analysis further demonstrates that practices and routines are especially sensitive to changing news climates, and it is here where the perceived benefits of Twitter use are most clearly articulated. Findings on the individual level indicate high degrees of individualisation and personalisation that shape journalists’ Twitter presence. Overall, the relationships and interactions between macro-, meso- and micro-level factors can create mutually beneficial outcomes for the employer, news product and journalist, but equally so, generate fields of tensions and significant conflicts of interest. The empirical analysis and its novel integration of independent macro-, meso- and microlevel concepts into a combined framework provide a basis for advancing a theoretical understanding of the interplay of factors that motivate, shape and moderate political journalists’ engagement with Twitter. This allows us to position and understand tweeting journalists, on the one hand, as employees bound by contractual agreements and occupational demands, and on the other, as autonomous agents who are not fully controlled by managerial strategies, organisational logics and professional workflows.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Svenja Ottovordemgentschenfelde
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JC Political theory
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Cammaerts, Bart and Helsper, Ellen

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