Same story, different voice: How news can differ online and offline

Just as the story you tell your colleague by the water cooler may differ from what you share on Facebook later that night, the various forms of digital and traditional media often publish different versions of the same news stories.

Due to the varied nature of each type of media, the opinions, formality and style of content can change dramatically between publications. For instance, social media posts can be easily read and consumed in a fleeting moment, radio broadcasts are limited to voice but enable more personal discussions and newspapers can publish in-depth analysis on past events alongside photographs. This shows just how important it is to monitor all types of media, to ensure stories of all tone and style are seen and analysed.

Understanding the style divide

To investigate this phenomenon, European food crises perception researchers from FoodRisC studied the media coverage of the 2008 Irish dioxin crisis. In this situation, tainted pork was pulled from the shelves across Ireland after routine testing found toxic levels of dioxins present in the meat.

This story is regarded as one of the first truly international food crises, according to FoodRisC, because of the significant coverage on social and digital media. The researchers found that in this case, social media focussed largely on consumer reactions to the crisis, as well as government responses and personal stories from those affected.

Conversely, traditional media channels, such as newspapers, covered a much wider range of topics, such as the cause of the contamination and the economic impact of the crisis. The study also found that people keeping an eye on social media are more likely to be fed content based on news sources like BBC and Reuters, while newspaper journalism presents readers with a more diverse collection of offline sources, such as experts, politicians and stakeholders in the crises.

Twitter in particular was used as a news broadcasting distributor, with almost 90 per cent of relevant posts simply linking to newspaper stories or other media sources, according to the FoodRisC study.

Content distribution also affected

And it's not just the voice, tone and style of the content that can change between the two platforms. A study published in the Newspaper Research Journal in 2012 found that readers of online news channels received a different mix of top and breaking stories compared to print media. This means that the various media platforms are making a choice about which stories to give preferential treatment, largely in regards to what they believe their audiences want to read.

With such significant differences between style and distribution across online and offline media, it is clear to see why any media monitoring strategy needs to keep all forms of news publishing in mind.

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