Out With The Old, In With The New: The Threat of Social Media on the Practice of Sports Journalism
BA (Hons) SPORT
Friday 15th March 2013
Word Count: 10,997
I would firstly like to thank my dissertation supervisor Dr. Peter Millward, who provided me with valuable provision and support from the foundation to the completion of this dissertation, helping to ensure my enthusiasm remained relentless throughout.
I must also thank my parents, for instilling within me a belief that good, honest hard work produces success.
In loving memory of Derek Clark, who taught me perseverance and determination, when he reminded me every day to “keep your eye on the ball”.
This dissertation explores how modern sports journalists are changing their working practices to accommodate for the recent technological advancement of social media networking. Using an intepretivist research approach, eight semi-structured interviews were conducted over Skype with professional sports journalists. This qualitative methodological approach amassed data at a micro level, rather than macro level as undertaken in previous research within this field. Thematic analysis of the interview transcriptions was performed to identify key arguments. A significant discovery of the discussion explains how social media sites such as Twitter are dynamically influencing the practices of sports journalism by increasing the professionalism required, the necessity of building rapport and the compulsion of social media policy intervention.
Acknowledgements p. 2
Abstract p. 3
Contents Page p. 4
Chapter One: Introduction p. 5
Chapter Two: The Past Presents The Future: How Technology Has Shaped Sports Journalism
Literature Review p. 7
2.1 Understanding the Future Through the Past p. 8
2.2 Social Media and Sports Journalism p. 10
2.3 Twitter: A Revolutionary Social Media Format p. 11
2.4 Virtual Rapport: Creating an Identity and Online Trust p. 12
2.5 The Transformation of Media Hierarchies via Social Media p. 12
2.6 Citizen Journalism and Social Media p. 14
2.7 Authenticity Within Social Media p. 17
2.8 Social Media Policy: A Balancing Act p. 18
2.9 Conclusion: An Ambiguous Horizon p. 19
Methodology p. 21
3.1 Research Design p. 21
3.2 Participants p. 22
3.3 Methods p. 24
3.4 Interviews p. 25
3.5 Data Handling p. 26
3.6 Ethics p. 26
3.7 Conclusion p. 27
Chapter Four: Changing the Game: Breaking Boundaries of Sports Journalism
Results and Discussion p. 29
4.1 Professionalism p. 29
4.2 Rapport p. 37
4.3 Policy p. 39
4.4 Concluding Summary p. 43
Chapter Five: Future or Fad? Further Considerations and Study Limitations
5.1 Conclusion p. 45
5.2 Limitations p. 47
5.3 Final Thoughts p. 48
References p. 50
Appendix A p. 64
Appendix B p. 65
Appendix C p. 66
This dissertation argues that social media is impacting on the professional practice of sports journalists by: increasing professionalism through increased working hours, brevity, legitimacy and immediacy; building audience rapport; and the implementation of social media policy by media corporations.
Following the rising use of social media as a journalistic apparatus, coupled with the potential it holds to transform media mechanisms, it is the impact of this modern change that is the core of this research project. Through qualitative methods, this dissertation investigates how social media is influencing traditional techniques of sports journalism. Meticulously, by collecting data at a micro-level, this study will outline adjustments experienced by sports journalists as they are forced to embrace social media.
Little research has been undertaken to explore the impact this revolutionary media format is having on sports journalism; an industry that has adopted technological advancements since the creation of the printing press. Therefore, this study was conducted to provide an understanding of the impact of social media. Such analysis is important to ensure that social media does not destroy sports journalism in the Digital Age, but compliments traditional formats sufficiently.
As an innovative dissertation, this study used a novel approach to research. Using Skype to conduct interviews with participants, a technological method that has not been used extensively in previous literature, reflects the original flair of this dissertation. Directing research using such technological methods is pioneering to the realm of research. Where previous difficulties arose using traditional research techniques associated with expense, geographical locality and accommodating the subject’s schedule, technological modern formats, such as Skype, overcome such confines. Hine (2005, p.246), identifies that,
‘this air of innovation and anxiety is a valuable asset that Internet research can build on and sustain, in order to maximize the potential for reflexive thinking about social science that it offers’.
The subsequent dissertation will combine four chapters: the literature review; within which the exploration and evaluation of relevant literature will occur; a methodology; where the justification and explanation of chosen research methods will be outlined; a discussion section; which will investigate and appraise discovered themes stemming from the systematic research; and a final chapter delineating future considerations, conclusive inferences and limitations of the study.
The objectives of this dissertation are to understand: ‘how do sports journalists think social media has affected professional dimensions of the sports journalism industry?’; ‘how do sports journalists think social media can allow them to build on audience relationships?’; and ‘why do sports journalists believe social media policies should, or should not, be implemented by media organisations? Overall, the broader research question to be answered within this thesis is ‘how does social media impact on the practice of sports journalism?’
The Past Presents The Future: How Technology Has Shaped Sports Journalism
Twitter is a prodigious Internet phenomenon. With an estimated 32% of overall Internet users registered to the social media site (Honigman, 2012), it is astonishing that the impact of Twitter on a wide variety of professions, including sports journalism, has not been analysed in academic research more intricately. A ‘real-time information network’ (Twitter, 2013), founded in 2006 (Gruzd et al., 2011), Twitter allows users to send 140-character messages to one another defined as ‘tweets’ (Lomicka and Lord, 2012). The extent to which sports journalists are using Twitter forces the question as to why they are engaging in such a phenomenon and what changes it is placing upon them as professionals. Twitter has encouraged the move towards the current Digital Age, which sociologists describe as an age,
‘in which people are networked together through technology and rely on such things as television, radio, and computers with which to conduct their lives, creating a culture different from that which came before’ (Johnson, 2000, n.b.).
The implications of such technological advancements must be understood thoroughly alongside the history of journalism to allow sports media personnel to excel. The following chapter argues that social media is impacting on sports journalism as other technological advancements have done so previously. Social media and the bearing it is placing upon media hierarchies and the public perception of sports journalists is also explored, alongside how ordinary citizens can be perceived as ‘journalists’ through their social media activity. The concept of social media policy is similarly investigated, discussing whether the current policies in the industry are effective, and if they are restrictive to journalist’s professional interests.
2.1 - Understanding the Future Through the Past
It is often said that to understand the future, one must understand the past and ‘throughout history, technology and the media of public communication have travelled paths often intertwined’ (Pavlik, 2008, p.1). Previously, technology has dictated the magnitude of each message we conduct; yet today, in the ‘Digital Age’, the power to communicate is undeniably immeasurable (Murthy, 2011). Mass communication, defined as ‘communication reaching large numbers of people, primarily developing in just the last 500 years’ (Lee, 2008, p.158) and formerly a monologue transaction (Castells, 2009), has been reconfigured by digital media, providing ‘an alternative, unorthodox, and questioning voice’ (Harcup, 2011, p. 23) and generating a domain for intercultural discourse (Miah, 2010).
A combination of technological progression and social change has ‘helped spark the demand and innovation necessary for creating today’s mass media’ (Lee, 2008, p.158). The most imperative milestone in the expansion of mass communication came in 1440, when Johannes Gutenberg founded the printing press in Mainz, Germany (Farah, 2007). This revolutionary invention allowed the shift from script to print, embodying an indisputable industrial and public mutation. As the public developed an enthusiastic appetite for information, a cultural drift commenced showing how news dispersal impacted on social status – ‘you were what you knew’ (Conboy, 2004, p. 18). As subversive as the computer would later be on society, the invention of the typewriter in the early 1800s (Brake and Demoor, 2009) forced a substantial increase in typing skills and eliminated the need for good penmanship and a growth in the profession of journalism ensued (Squier, 1919). Almost a century later, in 1937, the first functioning computer, of which we are familiar with in today’s society, was created (Mayo, 1985).
This rapid development from agricultural to industrialised societies was subjective to the improvement of media, as well as the technological advancements involved in the medias expansion (Beniger, 1986). The Industrial Revolution provided a period in which education and transportation thrived (Hartwell, 1971), supporting a ‘spur reader demand and hence the growth of newspapers, books and magazines’ (Lee, 2008, p.159).
‘From the simple, crude printing techniques of yesteryear to today’s sophisticated digital communications that canvas the globe, the mass media have continually evolved and adapted to changing demands and technological opportunities’ (Lee, 2008, p.159).
The media has established into a relentless domain as an integrated combination of new and old technology forms. The constant evolution in the news media has subtly formed a history that, according to Steinburg (1961 cited Eisenstein, 2012) ‘is an integral part of the general history of civilization’ (p.4).
Although this flashed historical narration is not directly related to journalism, it must be emphasised that it composed quantities of societal and economic alterations that formed modern society. These adaptations then created necessary conditions in which journalism could prosper into the Digital Age of media that is currently prevalent.
2.2 – Social Media and Sports Journalism
The fluctuating field of media consumption is dependent upon a multiplicity of elements, ‘including the evolution of new media technologies, wider public access to the internet, [and] the globalisation of information flows’ (Anderson, 2006; Gillmor, 2005; Lasica, 2003 cited Mythen, 2010, p.45), constructing a pioneering sphere of interaction (Castells, 2007). As technology has developed, such advances have inevitably formed the provision of sports journalism (Conboy, 2004) which,
‘has become one of the most important sections of the UK media, increasing greatly in the amount and prominence of coverage it receives and the respect it gets within the wider profession’ (Boyle, 2006a; Boyle, 2006b cited Price et al., 2012, p.10).
Sports journalism is undergoing ‘a time of radical media change’ (Miah, 2010, p.2); forcing journalists into a competitive digital domain (Sanderson and Hambrick, 2012). The revolution of digital media ‘seems to add another dimension that questions previous boundaries and definitions of professional journalism’ (Domingo et al., 2008, p.326), dilapidating the precincts of reporting and hinting that our current concept of ‘media’ is self-destructing (Couldry, 2009).
Previous research into social media within the sporting field has taken place on a macro-level. Overlooking the implications of such a sensation on sports journalism, earlier studies have examined the emergent use of systems on professional athletes (Pegoraro, 2010; Kassing and Sanderson, 2010). Therefore, many of the earlier findings undertaken within this topic have failed to produce empirical studies examining how media members employ social media, such as Twitter (Kassing and Sanderson, 2010). Ahmad (2010, p.147) identifies: ‘within academia… virtually nothing has yet been published on Twitter in journalism studies, the social sciences or, for that matter, in the field of media studies’. Some research, however, has been piloted on a quantitative level, producing statistics that lack a complex examination of the imperative issue. Consequently, ‘as the Internet has seemingly emerged as the medium for the future of sport reporting, it is integral to know the dispositions of this new era of journalists’ (Kian et al., 2011, p.39) as well as the inferences of digital media on sports journalism.
Kassing and Sanderson (2010) claim that social media is becoming fundamental to sports journalists, serving as both an information source and a means for distributing information to consumers (Hutchins, 2011). Reducing the barriers between athletes, journalists and fans, social media is amplifying previously impeded communication (Kassing and Sanderson, 2010), as well as restructuring concepts of space, time and place (Mythen, 2010).
2.3 – Twitter: A Revolutionary Format
Twitter, the most profound network in the social media shift, was founded in 2006 and is said to have reached 500 million users worldwide (Semiocast, 2012). The primary users of Twitter are aged 35-49 years old (Gregory, 2009), coinciding with the demographics of sports consumption (Gantz and Wenner, 1991 cited Shultz and Sheffer, 2010) and reasoning the social media bearing on sports journalism. Now the second most popular social network site, topped only by the omnipresent Facebook (Keneally, 2012), Twitter allows users to send 140-character messages referred to as ‘tweets’. Each message a member sends is transmitted to the person’s ‘followers’, a relationship which ‘requires no reciprocation’ (Kwak et al., 2010, p.591). Individuals can respond to a tweet by replying, or ‘re-tweeting’ the message to their own followers and tweets can be directed by using ‘@’ followed by the individual’s username (Murthy, 2011). Users can identify a search term by using a hash tag (#), which although originally used by Twitter to express a ‘trending’ topic (Page, 2012), now represents a social tendency. How a function of a social network site can escalate into a social phrase, as ‘LOL’ previously did, reflects the prominence of Twitter within the social sphere.
2.4 – Virtual Rapport: Creating an Identity and Online Trust
Twitter allows communication amongst its users without the intervention of gatekeepers vital in offline settings (Lister et al., 2009). However, the identities shared via the network are often ‘staged selves’ (Page, 2012) performed to serve a purpose. Journalists often create personas to operate as reliable news sources and play a supporting role in the ‘soap opera of the digital age’ (Wahbe, 2011, n.p.). Now, the magnitude of a follower list on Twitter has been socially constructed to represent a sign of status (Page, 2012), with some sports journalists hosting as many followers as elite athletes.
2.5 – Social Medias Transformation of Media Hierarchies
The transition of media formats is forcing a shift in the purpose of media centres. Rather than being controlled outputs of material, media organisations are now obliged to provide arenas for innovation, democracy and participation (Miah, 2011). Hermida (2012, p.318) claims that social media ‘disrupts the authority of the journalist as the professional who decides what the public needs to know and when it needs to know it’. Benkler (2006, p.32) describes an emerging ‘simple coordinate existence’ as a result of such a media revolution as d’Entreves (1992, cited Harcup, 2011, p.17) likewise note:
‘the ability of citizens to enlarge their opinions and to test their judgements can only flourish in a public culture of democratic participation that guarantees to everyone the right to action and opinion’.
An outburst from a citizen, however, is not enough to transform their status into that of a journalist. The public ultimately find interest in the stories themselves, rather than who wrote them, which suggests that ‘citizen journalists are ephemeral, vanishing after their fifteen minutes in the limelight’ (Murthy, 2011, p.14).
Social media, whilst destructing media hierarchies, ‘demands adjustment and reorganization in both media and sports industries’ (Hutchins and Rowe, 2009, p. 354). As Curran identifies the various forms of social media,
‘enable divergent social groups to define and constitute themselves, facilitate internal strategic debate, and further the forceful transmission of their concerns and viewpoints to a wider public.’ (2007, p.xix)
Social media can inform us considerably about the current state of media globally. The concept of digital media has evolved from discontent with the ‘epistemology of news’ (Atton and Hamilton cited Harcup, 2011, p.16), signalling that changes ensure the positivity of the media. Previous research (Harcup, 2011) has identified an axiomatic societal requisite for other media formats, and has expressed that digital media is a fitting solution to placate such a desire.
2.6 - Citizen Journalism and Social Media
Many of the most iconic images present within twenty-first century media are a result of ordinary citizens distributing their involvements in an incident via Twitter (Siapera and Veglis, 2012). Miah (2010, p.5) believes that ‘digital media has given rise to a proliferation of citizen journalists’ as smart phones in particular, allow everyday individuals who happen to be in the right place, at the right time, share their experiences with a practically infinite audience instantaneously.
The term ‘citizen journalism’, although not yet holding a certain definition (Lasica, 2003), refers to the online engagement by everyday consumers, in journalistic duties (Goode, 2009). Producing their own media forms, active citizens are, or at least attempting to, give themselves a voice (Harcup, 2011). Through online interaction, a sense of importance is created within the public sphere. Digital media ensures that the conversation between media and consumer is no longer monologue, and is fundamental to how identities form. Couldry (2009, p.437) acknowledges, ‘producers and consumers of media are often now the same person’ and it has been reasoned that,
‘the increasing ubiquity of the internet shifts the balance between expert knowledge, everyday experience and personal testimony and increases opportunities for public participation in debates around shared risk’ (Hughes et al., 2006, p.266).
Atton and Couldry (2003) identify that active citizenship is a result of dissatisfaction with media, thereby ascertaining a crippling problem for media on an empirical level. By providing a contrasting voice to the professional journalists, Mythen (2010, p.49), claims that citizen journalists are uniting,
‘against the tendency within professional journalism to produce black and white accounts of news events that gloss over the grey areas that might otherwise be productively debated’.
Alternatively, the development of citizen journalism can be acknowledged from a sociologically oriented approach, as a response to the intricacies of society and serving as a resolution to the defiant process of public interaction in an increasing social network (Domingo et al., 2008).
The proliferation of alternative media forms does not distinctly divide citizens and journalists, or traditional and modern media forms, as Schaffer (2007) predicts citizen journalism holds the potential to link traditional journalism with new media. Citizen journalism offers abundant opportunities for insight, however its critics focus on the lack of reflexivity, little familiarity of the libel legislation complexities and its focus on promoting sensation than accurate news (Mythen, 2010). Meyer (2007 cited Mythen, 2010, p.55) rationalises such polar opinions, stating:
‘debating over citizen journalism is like arguing over a Rorschach test. Each sees in it the manifestation of his or her fondest hopes or worst fears’.
Citizen journalism has been praised for its open stance on news and how it alternatively ‘can lead to greater depth of expression and wider understanding of the consequences of particular life events and disasters’ (Costera-Meijer, 2001, p.189). Giving an unedited account of an incident adds ‘an instant and shocking visual element to the unfolding tragedy that simply would not have been possible in previous epochs’ (Mythen, 2010, p.50) and Couldry (2009, p.438) claims that a deep ‘transformation is underway that challenges the ontology on which the mass communication paradigm was based’. Offering an alternative dialogue, citizen journalism has the potential to interrogate social judgements associated with events (Mythen, 2010). According to Johnson (2009 cited Schultz and Sheffer, 2010, p.229),
‘we’re actually having a genuine, public conversation with a group that extends far beyond our nuclear family and our next-door neighbours… it adds a second layer of discussion and brings a wider audience into what would be a private exchange.’
The creation of territories in which individuals can express their opinion is acknowledged as ‘crucial to their possibilities of acting as citizens’ by Couldry (2006, p.326) as Harcup (2011) suggests that citizen journalism can be rigorously comprehended in relation to contribution. Mouffe (1992) insinuates that active citizenship is not a consequence of habitation, but rather necessitates the custom of social involvement:
‘A radical, democratic citizen must be an active citizen, somebody who acts as a citizen, who conceives of herself a participant in a collective undertaking’ (1992, p.4).
Correspondingly, Mouffe proposes that active citizenship is a procedure as opposed to a rank (Harcup, 2011). This links to sports journalism, as social media gives sports fans a ‘strong consumer identity that facilitates the unravelling of the primacy of national identity’ (Levermore and Millward, 2007, p.145). Therefore, fans gain a sense of involvement through their dispersal of information via social media.
2.7 – Authenticity Within Social Media
Digital media has triggered temptations to publish news stories before their legitimacy has been confirmed ‘to the point where websites have reported the death of somebody only to retract it later’ (Andrews, 2011, p.10). Such a rapid need for information does not necessarily detract from the quality of sports news (Andrews, 2011), but suggests that ‘lies can indeed go around the world whilst truth is pulling its boots on’ (Mythen, 2010, p.52).
‘On Twitter because it’s there and people see it, it’s got that broadcast quality and you assume, in most cases wrongly, it has reliability.’ (Bond, 2012, n.p.).
Bond, as noted in the above quote, possibly envisions the future of his profession in the accuracy of tweets, rather than the ‘cases of hoaxes and patent misinformation’ (Murthy, 2011, p.14) found on social media that can have devastating implications on susceptible communities.
With an estimated 400 million tweets sent daily (Costolo, 2012) it is inevitable that issues surrounding content integrity occur (Mythen, 2010). Media personnel are now being faced with an ultimatum: be first or be accurate (Kassing and Sanderson, 2010). Citizen journalists, however, have no fear of consequence when publishing information and do not distance their opinion from their content, often distorting their depiction of news events. In contrast, editors implement policies on gathering data, colleagues’ double check facts and lawyers are employed to be certain content is correlated with libel law (Mythen, 2010), giving the qualified journalists, ultimately, the upper hand. Mainstream media organisations do not hold ‘an unblemished record so far as accuracy and impartiality is concerned’ (Mythen, 2010, p.52), however,
‘there is perhaps more accountability and more at stake for professional journalists in maintaining a tight ethical code and steering clear of hearsay’ (Mythen, 2010, p.52).
2.8 – Social Media Policy: A Balancing Act
With the aforementioned issues surrounding illegitimacy, media organisations have become susceptible to the notion of implementing social media policies. As a fresh media format, corporations are facing concerns with applying effective policies without limiting their social media output. With insufficient literature available on social media policy, it is yet to be analysed intricately to provide reliable data and suggestions for execution. Flynn (2012) describes the process of implementing a social media policy as a ‘balancing act’:
‘On the one hand, you want to provide enough social web access to keep your business thriving and maintain consideration for some level of personal usage. On the other hand, you are obligated to manage social media use effectively in order to protect your organization’s assets, reputation, and future’ (p.2).
Amsterdam University Press (2005) denotes that media policy in general ‘urgently needs such a future-oriented re-appraisal of the current paradigm’ (p.9). However, Barefoot and Szabo (2009) argue that Microsoft provide an excellent example of effective policy making, simply by telling their employees, “don’t be stupid” (p.148). This policy is founded on the belief that employees who understand the company’s strategies will act accordingly, acknowledging what to reveal and what not to reveal, regardless of their environment. Utilising a ‘no-use’ policy on social media can be as damaging to a company as much as an inaccurate tweet or negative employee outburst. Audi Inc. appreciated the importance of social media in 2011, when, following a US snowstorm tweeted, “Did your car get you stuck or get you home?” The response led to the discovery of a homemade video of a customer testing an Audi during the blizzard, and subsequently, Audi used the video in television advertisements (Ernst and Young, 2012).
A policy is a formalised code of ethics, putting parameters around online use (Barefoot and Szabo, 2009). Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) state that organisations require a custom social media policy, independent to their consumers and employees needs as much as their own branding. Jones (2012 cited Durrani, 2012) advocates that companies should take ‘social responsibility’ and engage with consumers, meanwhile maintaining a professional approach. With organisations lacking understanding of social media, many are choosing to restrict their journalists social media use, yet Sreenivasan (2012 cited Fidelibus, 2012, n.p.) denotes, ‘remember that part of the reason you hired these people is their personal brand in the first place’ and therefore journalists should not be permitted from creating an online personality.
2.9 – Conclusion: An Ambiguous Horizon
Social media, as a dynamic framework continuously adapting whenever users output their information (Trogemann and Pelt, 2006), played ‘a constructive part of Olympic consumption and production’ (Miah, 2011, n.p.) during London 2012. This identified that news organisations are recognising the possibilities of incorporating citizen journalism features to add value to their news packages (Singer and Ashman, 2009). Some scholars suggest that this is the direction that all media organisations are heading with Bardoel and Deuze (2001) claiming prospective reporters will,
‘serve as a node in a complex environment between technology and society, between news and analysis, between annotation and selection, between orientation and investigation’ (p. 100).
However, there is still an ambiguous horizon concerning the future of sports journalism and social media. Therefore, it is principal to explore this phenomenon and supplement prevailing research underpinnings, particularly through investigating the practices of sports journalists. An analysis of how journalists perceive social media in a professional capacity is required, alongside discovering how journalists use social media to develop audience rapport. As media organisations imminently seek to employ social media policies, an exploration of the necessities of policy from the perception of sports journalists is vital.
A concise summary and explanation of the methods used in this study will follow this literature review. The methods undertaken are the most suitable for achieving the objectives of this research: (i) ‘How do sports journalists think social media has affected professional dimensions of the sports journalism industry’, (ii) ‘How do sports journalists think social media can allow them to build on audience relationships?’ and (iii) ‘Why do sports journalists believe social media policies should, or should not, be implemented by media organisations?’ The aim of this dissertation is to determine, ‘How does social media impact on the practice of sports journalism?’
Within this chapter, the research methods adopted during this pragmatic research project will be reflexively presented. Through focus on participants, selection of methods, interviews, data analysis and ethics, this methodology will provide a thorough account of the research design and process in relation to the relevant research question.
3.1 - Research Design
The research of this study utilised an interpretive explanation towards understanding. An interpretivist model is,
‘a type of theoretical explanation about why events occur and how things work expressed in terms of the socially constructed meanings and subjective world views’ (Neuman, 2011, p.84).
Interpretive epistemologies determine that social phenomena are made distinct by the individuals who overtly construct them (Orme, 1997) which advocates that people hold distinctive subjective comprehensions of social facts.
Interpretivism deems that theory results from the collection of data, and hence an inductive exploration of the research area was implemented. Thematic fields of study were induced from the process of research, rather than situating pre-defined themes in relation to results (Draper, 2004). The studies research questions were formulated from the literature review, which provided the researcher with a theoretical understanding of the topic (Strauss and Corbin, 1990). Qualitative research, such as this study, is an on-going process of reflexivity where,
‘the activities of collecting and analysing data, developing and modifying theory, elaborating or refocusing the research questions, and identifying and dealing with validity threats are usually going on more or less simultaneously, each influencing all of the others’ (Maxwell, 2005, p.2).
An interpretivist approach is often criticised for abandoning scientific verification processes and consequently being incapable of generalisation (Kelliher, 2005). Despite its aptitude to achieve substantial awareness of the experiences of participants (Merriam, 1998), critics claim that interpretivism is ‘not radical enough’ (Mack, 2010, p.9). It must be recognised that, should the exploration be repeated, different inferences may outcome from a researcher’s alternative subjectivity to the research (Williams, 2000).
3.2 - Participants
Eight semi-structured Skype interviews with six male and two female professional sports journalists currently working on a local level within England were conducted. ‘Skype is a peer-to-peer VoIP application that has gained substantial popularity since its launch in 2003’ (Ehlert and Petgang, 2006, p.1). Skype offers a reliable mode for communication (Educause, 2007) similar to that of a video-call and ‘users download a piece of software that allows computers to communicate directly with one another’ (Educause, 2007, p.1), regardless of their geographical location. Participants ages ranged from 21 to 55 years with journalistic experience ranging from 2 to 35 years. All of the participants involved in this study used Twitter on a daily basis.
The demanding working hours of journalists, and the particular characteristics of the target group made finding participants willing, and able, to participate in the study challenging. Initially, it was intended for the interviews to be performed face-to-face, but with the unorthodox schedules of the participants the interviews were conducted via Skype. Such difficulties are identified by Powell and Lovelock (1991, p.128):
‘Empirical research in the social sciences generally requires access to data and to research subjects…the ultimate quality of a piece of research, indeed the very possibility to carrying it out, depends upon the researcher successfully negotiating and sustaining such access’.
In order to target participants who were familiar with the concept of social media, I used the ‘Sports Journalist Association’ (@SportSJA) as a gatekeeper, defined as ‘a person in an official or unofficial role who controls access to a setting’ (Neuman, 2011, p.429). Using a gatekeeper with prominence as a leader ‘that members in the field obey’ (Neuman, 2011, p.429) ensured that participants recognised the mature tone of the research. This yielded a significantly high response rate (45 respondents), allowing me to choose eight participants of varying ages, locations, sex and journalistic experience to interview.
With no sampling frame for the studies population group, ‘purposive sampling’ was conducted. Purposive sampling, a non-probability sampling method, is defined as when ‘particular settings, persons, or events are deliberately selected for the important information they can provide that cannot be gotten as well from other choices’ (Maxwell, 1997, p.87). Using eight participants in this study is in regulation with Seidler (1974), who highlighted that a minimum of five informants is necessary for data to be reliable when using purposive sampling. Operating a non-probability sampling method has limitations such as bias and universalising (Gliner and Morgan, 2000), however, purposive sampling can stipulate robust data (Tongco, 2007). As Kidder et al., (1986) advocates, by selecting the participants directly, samples can be elected which suit the requirements of the study.
3.3 - Methods
A qualitative methodology comprising of semi-structured interviews was utilised for this study. Previously research within this domain, focus has been placed on quantitative data (Armstrong and Gao, 2010; Howe, 2011; Kwak et al., 2010), therefore, it is essential that a qualitative, in-depth focus be given to this field. Qualitative interviews ‘are reality-constructing, meaning-making occasions, whether recognized or not’ (Holstein and Gubrium, 1995, p.4), thus are useful for examining emotions in response to a given study area than a questionnaire, for example.
Churton and Brown (2010) suggest that interviews, as a micro-level method, offer a magnitude of insight into person’s experiences which alternative methods are unable to achieve. Semi-structured interviews benefit from the ability to ‘deviate [from the questions] where necessary in order to maximize the information obtained’ (Adams and Cox, 2008, p.22), allowing themes to emerge that were not considered before the interview (Aira et al., 2003).
As a necessity, an interview schedule was composed to direct discussion with participants (Appendix 1). This schedule allowed for flexibility from outlined themes, yet ensured that the focus of the interviews was maintained.
3.4 - Interviews
All of the interviews for this research took place between Thursday 15th November 2012 and Monday 3rd December 2012. With the discretion of the participants, all interviews were recorded to ensure precise translation of data. This improved the subsequent ease of transcription, later used for data analysis. The questions asked during the interviews concentrated on themes that ascended from the literature review, with attention on participant’s experiences of using Twitter professionally. As well as allowing for later transcription, recording interviews in research ensures that the interviewer can maintain focus on the questions being asked (Hoepfl, 1997).
A fundamental element in the process of interviewing is the building of rapport between interviewee and interviewer (DiCicco-Bloom and Crabtree, 2006). It is important that the researcher exercises reflexivity, which is defined by Spencer et al., (2003, p.71) as,
‘showing awareness of the importance of the research on the researcher and vice versa; recognizing how values, assumptions and presence of the researcher may impact on data’.
This includes not taking advantage of any vulnerability the participants may have to the interview questions and not wording questions in a certain way to influence results (White and Marsh, 2006).
A recurrently disregarded concern in qualitative research is how the researcher’s individual characteristics influence the gaining, forming and sustaining of rapport with participants (Gurney, 1985). As Hammersley and Atkinson (2007, p.73) suggest ‘the researcher cannot escape the implications of gender: no position of genderless neutrality can be achieved’ and therefore, as a female researcher interviewing within a principally male domain, the affect gender may have on the interview process must be considered. Consequently, one must not overlook the possibility that information may remain undisclosed during interviews with male participants.
3.5 - Data Handling
The transcription of interviews was performed unerringly and, while time-consuming, ‘analysis led to the emergence of themes and categories that helped the researcher to intuitively unravel the developing construct’ (Polit and Hungler, 1999, p.239). With a sizeable magnitude of data produced, it was not possible to comprise all of the data sourced in the subsequent discussion. While a vigilant effort was made to include a range of themes, it could be said that the researcher undertook confirmation bias, and selectively chose data to include (Nickerson, 1998). For example, Corden and Sainsbury (2006, p.12) state that ‘a researcher would be able to find at least one quotation to support any point they wish to make.’
3.6 - Ethics
The Durham University ethics committee approved the study and the participants completed an ethical consent form prior to participation. The participants received a description of the study and were made aware that they could willingly withdraw from the study at any point. Additionally, the participants were informed that to secure the anonymity of participants’, aliases would be used throughout the research conclusions. It was also necessary to make the participants conscious that the interviews would be recorded for transcription purposes, but that all of their data would be stored, maintained and protected in compliance with the Data Protection Act, 1998.
3.7 - Conclusion
This research project utilised research methods to generate intricate findings. The aim of this chapter was to judiciously analyse the selected methods to draw upon any limitations. Although an observable limitation of the study is the moderately small sample volume, suggesting that the data cannot calculate comprehensive generalities, it is coveted that the study will nonetheless offer a respected input to the research field.