Education, Research

#instajournalism: The Boundaries of Journalism in the Age of Social Media Influencing

October 1, 2019

Tiia Valkonen, Media Management MA student, Department of Culture and Media, Arcada UAS

Supervisor: Dr. Nathalie Hyde-Clarke       Examiner: Nanna Engebretsen

Social media has fundamentally transformed the role of journalism in society. Whereas previously journalistic organizations controlled the flow of information to the masses, nowadays virtually everyone with a social media account can produce content on socially, culturally, or politically important topics. Furthermore, a new group of professionalized social media users have emerged in the journalistic sphere: social media influencers – regular people who earn an income from integrating advertising into their social media feeds (Abidin 2015; Hanusch & Banjac 2019).

Especially popular among young people, influencers often aim to represent themselves as authentic, creating a sense of intimacy and low social distance between themselves and their audiences (Abidin 2015; Khamis et al. 2017). Some influencers have hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers, thus rivaling traditional media outlets in terms of their reach (Abidin & Ots 2016 p. 157). The arrival of social media influencing has especially affected the field of lifestyle journalism: both journalists and influencers now produce content on topics such as food, beauty, or travelling (Maares & Hanusch 2018).

In my MA thesis, I explore the professional boundaries of journalism in the age of social media influencing by interviewing five journalists about their use of the social media platforms Instagram, YouTube, and/or SnapChat. The aim of my study was to find out how journalists discursively (re)construct the boundaries of their profession in relation to social media influencing. The study was qualitative by nature: a semi-structured interview method was employed to gain an in-depth understanding of the ways in which journalists use language to draw professional boundaries.

The theoretical framework for this study consists of journalism as boundary work (Lewis 2012). According to Lewis (2012), journalism as a profession can be seen as having permeable boundaries. Unlike the more established professions, such as medicine or law, journalism does not have official means to control who can participate in journalistic work. As a result, the boundaries of journalism are largely constructed through discourse(s) about norms, i.e. acceptable ways of doing things within the profession. Journalism has traditionally had a strong normative basis to which journalists everywhere more or less agree (Deuze 2005). Unlike influencers, journalists have traditionally aimed to remain autonomous from advertisers and audiences in order to maintain credibility and trustworthiness (Karlsson 2011).

The general findings of this study reveal that influencer content on lifestyle topics was construed by the participants as having journalistic characteristics or being journalism. However, the participants talked about the boundaries between journalism and social media influencing in differing ways. The concept of boundaries seemed to be a more common and familiar construction for journalists with young target audiences. Journalists with older target audiences expressed more hesitation but were nevertheless willing to consider influencing from a journalistic standpoint.

In addition, critical discursive psychological concepts of interpretative repertoire and subject position were used to analyze the interview data. Two reoccurring repertoires with subject positions were identified from the data: repertoire of adaptation; and repertoire of resistance. Repertoire of adaptation emerged when three participants with young target audiences talked about how journalists (need to) adopt the authenticity norm associated with influencers in order to build trust between themselves and audiences. Repertoire of resistance emerged in the discourses of four participants, including those with young target audiences, when they talked about how journalists (need to) maintain the journalistic norm of autonomy from advertisers and audiences in order to build trust between themselves and audiences.

The significance of this thesis for the field of media management is that it shed light on an emerging phenomenon that may fundamentally affect journalism as a profession. Journalism and social media influencing have developed in different historical contexts with different normative principles. As a result, social media seems to present a very challenging landscape for journalists. In terms of professional development, the study gave me insight into journalistic work in the contemporary media landscape. It made me realize how much the concepts of truth and trustworthiness may be changing in the modern age.

Abidin, C., 2015, Communicative <3 Intimacies: Influencers and Perceived Interconnectedness, Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology, (8). Available from:

Abidin, C. & Ots, M., 2016, Influencers Tell All? Unravelling Authenticity and Credibility in a Brand Scandal. In: Edström, M., Kenyon, A. & Svensson, E. (eds.), Blurring the Lines: Market-Driven and Democracy-Driven Freedom of Expression, Nordicom, Gothenburg, pp.153–61. Available from:

Deuze, M., 2005, What is Journalism? Professional Identity and Ideology of Journalists Reconsidered, Journalism, 6(4), pp. 442–64. Available from: SAGE Journals.

Hanusch, F. & Banjac, S., 2019, Studying Role Conceptions in the Digital Age: A Critical Appraisal. In: Eldridge II, S. & Franklin, B. (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Developments in Digital Journalism Studies, Routledge, Oxon, New York. Available from: Google Books.

Karlsson, M., 2011, The Immediacy of Online News, the Visibility of Journalistic Processes and a Restructuring of Journalistic Authority, Journalism, 12(3), pp. 279–95. Available from: SAGE Journals.

Khamis, S., Ang, L. & Welling, R., 2017, Self-Branding, ‘Micro-Celebrity’ and the Rise of Social Media Influencers, Celebrity Studies, 8(2), pp. 1–18. Available from: ResearchGate.

Lewis, S., 2012, The Tension between Professional Control and Open Participation: Journalism and its Boundaries, Information, Communication & Society, 15(6), pp. 836–66. Available from: ResearchGate.

Maares, P. & Hanusch, F., 2018, Exploring the Boundaries of Journalism: Instagram Micro-Bloggers in the Twilight Zone of Lifestyle Journalism, Journalism, pp. 1–17. Available from: SAGE Journals

The full thesis may be downloaded from from September 2019.

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