Social Media are Changing the News Agenda

In Norway, social media is the single most important news source for people aged 9-18. As users increasingly rely on social media for their news updates, the power of news media is challenged in new ways. ViSmedia researcher Thomas Wold points out that news sharing in social media can be actively used to influence what news stories that should be publicly discussed.


Main content

At the Prague Media Point Conference in December, ViSmedia researcher Thomas Wold gave a presentation on how news sharing in social media is changing the agenda-setting power of news media and how journalists should deal with this. The conference gathers journalists, media professionals and scholars for discussion on what’s working in the current media landscape and how news media should cope with future challenges. His point of departure was that social media is a popular platform for finding, reading and sharing news. Legacy media still produce most of the news, but there is a clear development in several countries that people rely on social media for their news updates. This means that news sharing through social media affects the agenda-setting function of legacy media.

Two-step agenda and alternative newsSome people are more active than others when it comes to sharing news on social media. This activity can be operationalized as a version of the two-step function. The first step is that news media publishes news stories, and opinion leaders interpret and disseminate the news stories to their network in the second step. This gives new opportunities to change the news agenda. Alternative news media in Norway have grasped this opportunity to establish themselves as a part of public debate. There are three alternative news media that have made their mark on public debate in Norway: the Human Rights Service (HRS.no), Document.no and Resett.no. They all present a high degree of anti-immigration, anti-Islam and anti-elite content (Nygaard, 2019). They tend to mimic mainstream media in the way they organize their content, but the writing style is more subjective than descriptive; further, their core ideology states that immigration has made Norwegian society unsafe, and the political elite and the criminal system is to blame (ibid). They are small and controversial organizations, but they have managed to become very visible on social media and in public debate. It is likely that social media will increase in importance as an arena for news, information and debate. This makes audience distribution of news in social media interesting to investigate. Will news media become dependent on audience distribution in social media? If so, what are the implications of such development?

Impilications for the news media

  • News sharing on social media can reach an audience that doesn't normally read online newspapers

  • Opinion leaders have a great impact on the news agenda in social media

  • Find your audience. The largest audience is on Facebook. The most active audience is on Twitter. The youngest audience is on Snapchat and other platforms

  • Interact with your audience. If your news article fuels debate, you should take part in that debate

  • Stories where members of the audience are represented often engage the audience

  • Stories on politics, healthcare and entertainment generate more audience activity than stories on sports, crime and accidents

  • Lay off the click bait. It might get you clicks, but it is likely to frustrate your audience, and they may lose trust in you in the long run

Read more about the conference here.

Reference in the text

Nygaard, S. (2019). The Appearance of Objectivity: How Immigration-Critical

Alternative Media Report the News.

Journalism Practice, 1-17.