Study points to prominence of activists in Andy Carvin coverage of Arab Spring

Here’s the media release on the research I presented at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at UT Austin on Saturday, April 21:

A new study shows how far NPR’s Andy Carvin, known as “the man who tweets revolutions,” favoured the voice of protesters in his reporting on Twitter of the Arab Spring.

The rigorous analysis of more than 5,000 tweets found that Carvin’s feed gave higher priority to the messages from citizens in repressive societies who were documenting and expressing their desires for social change on Twitter.

During key periods of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings in early 2011, just under half of the messages on his Twitter stream came from activists and bloggers (48.3%), even though they only made up a quarter of his sources (26.4%).

Carvin also relied mainstream media journalists as sources. While they made up about a quarter of his sources (26.7%), journalists accounted for 29.4% of tweets.

The study, “Sourcing the Arab Spring: A Case Study of Andy Carvin’s Sources During the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolution” by academics in Canada and the U.S., points to the dramatic impact social media is having on journalism and the ways news is being reported.

University of British Columbia professor and lead author Alfred Hermida said: “Our findings suggest a new style of near real-time reporting where journalists tap into social media to include a broader range of voices in the news.”

“The prominence of what many may consider to be rebel voices raises questions about traditional journalistic approaches to balance and objectivity.”

Carvin, a social media strategist for U.S. public service radio broadcaster NPR, rose to prominence during the uprisings in the Middle East for his mastery of aggregating and verifying real-time news on Twitter.

The study shows how his approach to sourcing marks a break with established news practices. Traditionally, journalists cite a small number of sources who hold institutional positions of power and authority, such as government officials, police or business leaders. Journalists rely on these elite sources, shaping what news gets reported and how it is reported.

News coverage quoting ordinary people still fills only a small part of the news. When it comes to covering protests, journalists tend to cite on officials and police, and tend to discredit activists.

The researchers analysed tweets from two periods in 2011, identifying and categorizing Carvin’s top sources (322 in all). The first, from January 12 to January 19, covered the major portion of Tunisian demonstrations leading to the fall of President Ben Ali. The second, from January 24 to February 13, covered the Egyptian protests and subsequent resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

University of Minnesota professor Seth C. Lewis, a co-author on the study, said: “This research focuses on the work of a single person, but it’s a key case study for understanding larger transformations occurring as journalism evolves through social media.”

The study is authored by Alfred Hermida from the University of British Columbia, and Seth C. Lewis and Rodrigo Zamith from the University of Minnesota.

Note to editors:

The results of the study will be presented on Saturday, April 21, at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at 11:15 a.m. CDT (12.15 p.m. EDT). A live video stream of the conference will be available on the symposium website.

The abstract for the paper, “Sourcing the Arab Spring: A Case Study of Andy Carvin’s Sources During the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions,” is available from the symposium website on Friday, April 20.

About the researchers:

Alfred Hermida is an award-winning associate professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia, Canada. His research focuses on social media and emerging genres of journalism. An online news pioneer, he was a founding news editor of BBCNews.com and was a BBC correspondent in the Middle East. He co-authored Participatory Journalism: Guarding Open Gates at Online Newspapers and is currently working on his second book on the impact of social media on the news.

Contact: alfred.hermida AT ubc.ca – Twitter: @hermida

Seth C. Lewis, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. His research on the changing nature of journalism in the digital era has received several top-paper awards and has been published in leading academic journals. He co-edited two editions of The Future of News: An Agenda of Perspectives, and he is affiliated with Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. Previously, he was an editor at The Miami Herald and a U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Spain.

Contact: sclewis AT umn.edu – Twitter: @sethclewis

Rodrigo Zamith is a doctoral student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. His primary research interest is in the interplay between media, public opinion, and policymaking, with a focus on foreign affairs. He has previously worked as reporter at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Contact: zamit001 AT umn.edu

(Photo by David Skok)