International Journal of Internet Science

A peer reviewed open access journal for empirical findings, methodology, and theory of social and behavioral science concerning the Internet and its implications for individuals, social groups, organizations, and society.

Volume 7, Issue 1 (2012)

Social Media in the Changing Ecology of News: The Fourth and Fifth Estate in Britain
Nic Newman1, William H. Dutton2, & Grant Blank2
1Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, UK, 2Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, UK

Abstract: This paper provides a case study of the changing patterns of news production and consumption in the UK that are being shaped by the Internet and related social media. Theoretically, this focus addresses concern over whether the Internet is undermining the Fourth Estate role of the press in liberal democratic societies. The case study draws from multiple methods, including survey research of individuals in Britain from 2003-2011, analysis of log files of journalistic sites, and interviews with journalists. Survey research shows a step-jump in the use of online news since 2003 but a levelling off since 2009. However, the apparent stability in news consumption masks the growing role of social network sites. The analyses show that the Fourth Estate—the institutional news media—is using social media to enhance their role in news production and dissemination. However, networked individuals have used social media to source and distribute their own information in ways that achieve a growing independence from the Fourth Estate journalism. As more information moves online and individuals become routinely linked to the Internet, an emerging Fifth Estate, built on the activities of networked individuals sourcing and distributing their own information, is developing a synergy with the Fourth Estate as each builds on and responds to the other in this new news ecology. Comparative data suggests that this phenomenon is likely to characterize the developing news ecology in other liberal democratic societies as well, but more comparative research is required to establish the validity of this model.

Keywords: Internet, social media, social network sites, news, Fourth Estate, Fifth Estate, democracy

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