Sociology Prof. New Book Examines Twitter’s Role in Journalism | St. Lawrence University

Sociology Prof. New Book Examines Twitter’s Role in Journalism

A St. Lawrence University faculty member has published a new book on journalistic practices in the age of Twitter.

Stephen Barnard, assistant professor of sociology, published Citizens at the Gates: Twitter, Networked Publics, and the Transformation of American Journalism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). As Twitter has become an essential space where information is shared, reporting methods tested, and power contested, the book draws insights from nearly a decade of mixed-method research, analyzing Twitter’s role in the transformation of American journalism.

In his analyses of Twitter practices around newsworthy events – including the Boston Marathon bombing, protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and the election of Donald Trump – Barnard brings together conceptual and theoretical lenses from multiple academic disciplines, bridging sociology, journalism, communication, media studies, science and technology studies, and political science. 

“This book was written to examine how journalists use Twitter in their work, and how it has changed the nature of journalism,” Barnard said. “It’s also a look at how the public’s use of Twitter for journalism and activism can go viral, which then leads mainstream media to report on viral topics.”

In his chapter titled “Tweeting #Ferguson,” Barnard examines uses of Twitter by a small cohort of journalists and activists in the aftermath of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After providing context about the case and reviewing literature on networked journalism and activism, the chapter compares tweets from each cohort.

In the chapter titled “The Spectacle of #TrumpsAmerica,” Barnard analyzes tweets by journalists reporting on @realDonaldTrump and then compares them with those posted by activists. This includes a brief examination of online news coverage. Each group’s potential for influence is compared before drawing some conclusions about influence, media spectacle, and the hybridizing of journalism and politics.

“Trump tweets, and hundreds of political journalists are mentioning his Twitter account, which contributes to a media spectacle that has real consequences,” Barnard said. “The spectacle acts to draw attention to one particular topic, while it may also be drawing attention away from other important issues, intentionally or not.”

In the concluding chapter, titled “Twitter and Beyond: Journalistic Practice, Platforms, and the Future of Media Power,” Barnard summarizes and assesses changes in the journalistic field due to the increasing influence of Twitter and networked publics. The chapter discusses professional and citizen journalists’ use of Twitter to gather and share the news, critique it, and to hold media institutions accountable for violations of the public trust.

The book is available in hardback, ebook, as well as on Springer Link.

Update, Aug 3: Barnard's book and expertise on Twitter was featured on Beme News, a YouTube news channel owned by CNN.

Watch the segment (Barnard introduced at 5:25)