News 2.0: Journalists, Audiences, And News On Social Media by Ahmed Al-Rawi

The Blurb On The Back:

Offers fresh insights and empirical evidence on the producers, consumers, and content of News 2.0

News 2.0 has forever changed the news business.  This second generation of news is made, distributed, and consumed on the internet, particularly social media.  News 2.0: Journalists, Audiences, And News On Social Media examines the ways in which news production is sometimes biased and how social networking sites (SNS) have become highly personalised news platforms that reflect users’ preferences and world views.  Drawing from empirical evidence, this book provides a critical and analytical assessment of recent developments, major debates, and contemporary research on news, social media, and news organisations worldwide.

Author Ahmed Al-Ravi highlights how, despite the proliferation of news on social media, consumers are often confined within filter “bubbles”.  Emphasising non-Western media outlets, the text explores the content, audiences, and producers of News 2.0, and addresses direct impacts on democracy, politics, and institutions.  Topics include viral news on SNS, celebrity journalists and branding, “fake news” discourse, and the emergence of mobile news apps as ethnic mediascapes.  Integrating computational journalism methods and cross-national comparative research, this unique volume:

– Examines different aspects of news bias such as news content and production, emphasising news values theory.

– Assesses how international media organisations including CNN, BBC, and RT address non-Western news audiences.

– Discusses concepts such as audience fragmentation on social media, viral news, networked flak, click bait, and internet bots.

– Employs novel techniques in text mining such as topic modelling to provide a holistic overview of news selection.

News 2.0: Journalists, Audiences, And News On Social Media is an innovative and illuminating resource for undergraduate and graduate students of media, communication, and journalism studies as well as media and communication scholars, media practitioners, journalists, and general readers with interest in the subject.

You can order NEWS 2.0: JOURNALISTS, AUDIENCES, AND NEWS ON SOCIAL MEDIA by Ahmed Al-Rawi from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Ahmed Al-Rawi is Assistant Professor of News, Social Media, and Public Communication at Simon Fraser University in Canada.  Although this is an interesting book about the impact that social media has on news dissemination (including “bubbles” and “fake news”) that looks beyond the US and Europe, the heavy focus on methods of analysis and statistical tools makes it more useful for students of the subject than for general readers like me.

News 2.0 refers to news made, disseminated and consumed on social media platforms (SNS).  The book is broadly divided into 3 main areas: the content of the news, the audiences for it and the producers of it.  6 out of the 8 chapters are adapted or pulled together from papers that Al-Rawi has previously published so if you are already familiar with his work in this field, then you will likely get a sense of deja vu from this book.  This isn’t a bad thing because coming into this as a reader who is interested in the field it’s good to have the reassurance that this has been through an academic process for publication and Al-Rawi does extensively end note and evidence his materials.  But it does mean that you’re getting something that’s written in a fairly academic style that presumes a certain degree of familiarity with the relevant theories and materials that is simply not there for more casual readers like myself.  The main reason why I’m mentioning this is because the back cover copy says it’s for general readers with an interest in the subject but I think that if you’re a student in the field then you will probably get more from this than a newbie like myself.

That brings me to my main issue with the book, which is that Al-Rawi and his team have carried out a lot of original research for the chapters/papers including by trawling social media.  There is therefore a big focus in each chapter on their methodology and statistical techniques and the programs they used to gather that raw data.  There are also a lot of tables setting out the data findings and the breakdown of what the research has shown and again, while I don’t doubt that’s very useful for students and researchers in the field, as a general reader it just didn’t hold my interest.  I also couldn’t help but notice that some of the research or papers cited are from 2013 and, given that this book was published in 2020 and a lot had happened in the intervening 7 years, it would have been useful to know if there was anything more recent that would back up the general findings or (if not) why there was no further research.

None of this is to say that I got nothing from the book.  For starters Al-Rawi makes the deliberate decision to look at news media beyond the standard US/European channels by looking at what news media are doing in the Middle East.  I found this particularly interesting in the context of the section on audiences as Al-Rawi uses a variety of sources including Radio Netherlands Worldwide, Radio Monte Carlo, Al Jazeera  and Al Arabiya to look at what people engage with, which is particularly interesting with regard to what was happening in Syria and Egypt at this time.  It’s particularly interesting to read this alongside the chapter on social networking sites and the news where Al-Rawi also looks at western channels aimed at Middle Eastern audiences and looks at how their editorial decisions impact what they release and want to share with the audience.

The chapter on viral news is useful in terms of looking at what people want to share as opposed to what news organisations want to release and the role of influencers.  The chapter on “fake news” discourse was also one that I found to be helpful, particularly with regards to how it was weaponised by Donald Trump and his supporters and the impact that it had in terms of the discourse on news providers such as CNN.  He also considers the interaction between the concept and social influencers and the differences between how mainstream news outlets report on “fake news” and how social influencers filter it for their audiences.  Al-Rawi makes the point of saying that it’s an area where he doesn’t consider the creators of fake news stories, which is fair in the context of the chapter but also a little frustrating given how the last couple of years have shown an almost industrial scale of fake news creation for propaganda and more nefarious purposes so it would have been helpful to have had some kind of mention of that.

In contrast I thought that the chapter on celebrity journalists didn’t tell me anything that I could not have already guessed, i.e. that it’s mainly tied with self-promotion and gate-keeping.  I also didn’t get a huge amount from the chapter on breaking news other than that the term is mis-used for other purposes to try and get traction for social media posts.

Ultimately although this book was not what I had hoped for, I want to stress that this is not Al-Rawi’s fault but rather one of the publishers who were perhaps trying too hard to promote this to a broader audience than would perhaps benefit from it.  If you are an undergraduate or graduate student or an academic with an interest in these topics from a research point of view, then I do think that it is worth your time – not least because Al-Rawi also points to where further research could and should be carried out and deficiencies in existing research that need to be explored further.  I just don’t think it’s as accessible for keen but general readers like myself who have no prior expertise in the topic. 

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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