THE INTERMEDIA AGENDA-SETTING AMONG TWITTER, INSTAGRAM AND ONLINE NEWS WEBSITES IN GHANA

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ABSTRACT

The rise of the internet has had a major impact on journalism development across the world, Ghana being no exception. Its influence can be seen in the rise of new media platforms such as online news websites, blogs and social media. As a result of this, the traditional notion of intermedia agenda-setting in Ghana, which existed among the legacy media has been questioned. This study explored the phenomenon of intermedia agenda-setting among two social media platforms — Twitter and Instagram — and five online news websites in Ghana over a two-week period in March 2019. Using a mixed method approach, the study investigated the different types of issue categories that dominated the agendas of Twitter and Instagram and how these in turn influenced the selected online media platforms namely Myjoyonline.com, Citinewsroom.com, Yen.com.gh, Ghananewsageny.org and Pulse.com.gh. News editors of two of the online media sampled were also interviewed to give more depth to the quantitative data. The study found that of the two social media, Twitter had the most influence on the news websites. Furthermore, Twitter also had an influence on Instagram. The findings further indicated that depending on topic and time, there was a bi-directional relationship between social media and the sampled online news websites, suggesting that there was an intermedia agenda-setting relationship among Twitter, Instagram and online news websites in Ghana. Interestingly, the study found that the news agenda on Instagram was dominated by topics relating to social issues like gender, sex and relationships. The study opens up for future studies to look into the intermedia agenda-setting influences among only online news websites in Ghana.

CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION

            Background to the study

In January 2018, a tweet about a primary school teacher in Ghana who teaches his pupils Information and Communication Technology (ICT) with a blackboard version of Microsoft Office went viral on Twitter. A Twitter user had copied the post from Facebook and mentioned Information Technology companies like Microsoft and Google in the tweet. Within few hours after the tweet had gone viral, the story appeared and gained prominence on major online news networks like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Guardian UK, Cable News Network (CNN), Tech Crunch and Joy News Channel in Ghana. The teacher, Richard Appiah Akoto, suddenly became a household name and discussions on quality education featured prominently on social media platforms in Ghana and, perhaps, globally. Subsequently, links of news stories on global media organizations were also shared by social media users. On social media platforms like Instagram where links could not be shared, screenshots of the news stories, as well as pictures of this teacher, were shared with the headlines as captions or comments. Both new and legacy media played a role in getting this news out there and subsequently raising several issues on Ghana’s educational system.

The media play a very important role in society today. Inasmuch as they are regarded as the “fourth estate of the realm”, acting as a check on government and other institutions (Luberda, 2008), they also give people what to think about every day (McCombs, 2004; McCombs & Shaw, 1972). The amount of attention the media devote to particular issues does not only influence how the public is going to accept the issue but also drives the kind of importance people attach to the given issue. These issues are regarded as the media’s agenda. For some years now, a good number of empirical studies have perhaps given support to the fact that issues that form the mainstream media agenda may also influence the public agenda (McCombs & Shaw, 1976). On a daily basis, traditional media may publish a number of issues that they expect their audiences to engage with.

The underlying assumption of media agenda-setting is the power of the media to direct “what the public think about rather than what to think”.

The assumption was further explored by Dearing and Rogers (1996) to ascertain what influences the media’s agenda itself. Scholars have proposed that there is an interplay among media houses whereby apart from their audiences, they also influence one another. According to Dearing and Rogers (1996), “news people operate in a special kind of environment, without much contact with their audience members and so they take their cues about an issue’s priority from other media”. These hints derive not only from an issue agenda’s considerable importance, but also from its interest to the audiences and media consumers over which these media outlets compete. Presumably, with time, issues picked up by some media outlets also tended to influence what other news media put out. This later version of agenda-setting is what is referred to as intermedia agenda- setting. Intermedia agenda-setting focuses on how different media influence one another’s news agenda (Banducci, S., 2018; Sikanku, 2012). News media differ in power across the world. Those that are in powerful nations play several important roles in shaping the global news agenda. Furthermore, media firms with greater access to more quality news sources tend to have a greater influence on smaller news media who may not have a wide network of correspondents and or access to news sources (Cui and Wu, 2017).

Prior to the emergence of new media platforms like news websites and social media, the concept of intermedia agenda-setting existed in the thick of mainstream media such as newspapers, television and radio. In Ghana, for instance, both private and government-owned newspapers played critical roles in setting the news agenda (Amoakohene, 2004; Gadzekpo, 1997 cited in Sikanku, 2012). In his quest to investigate the intermedia agenda influences that existed between print and online media during Ghana’s emerging era of liberalization, Sikanku (2012) argued that

intermedia agenda-setting effects in Ghana’s media landscape were varied. Morning shows on radio and television stations have for a long time adopted the newspaper review segment where topical issues in the various newspapers are rehashed, discussed and sometimes given newer dimensions. In short, newspapers usually set the content and tone for what may be discussed in other mainstream media. Several other scholars have argued that newspapers have a much higher agenda-setting influence on other media (Sikanku, 2012; Kilby, Thomas, Morani & Sambrook, 2016; Rogstad, 2016). Whether they were political, entertainment or social, some newspaper content was almost always likely to be included in daily radio and television discussion programmes. Subsequently, issues that may come out of these daily programmes on radio and television may also find their way into newspaper publications the following morning, therefore, making the influence mutual and cyclical.

It is assumed that media influence has been shifting from being among mainstream media only in Ghana to being among online and social media platforms due to an expanded media environment following the liberalization of Ghana’s media landscape. Traditional media seem to be giving way to a variety of online media platforms which publish news quickly and faster. Additionally, there is also the emergence of a newer form of media, particularly, social media, which afford ordinary citizens the opportunity to create and share content as well as network with other people (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have inarguably positioned themselves as part of the public sphere as important news sources and as platforms where public debates take place. The growth of the online media in Ghana and social media use has therefore impacted the agenda-setting function of the media in Ghana as anecdotal evidence suggests an intermedia-agenda setting relationship between the two.

            Twitter and Instagram in the Global Context

Twitter and Instagram have become very important microblogging platforms for journalists, specifically, citizen journalists. Since, the first tweet on March 21, 2006, by Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter, the social networking site has seen an increase in its user base while also serving as a platform for news discussions. Twitter has proven to be a very powerful medium of disseminating news quickly, and sharing updates and opinions about issues. A variety of people, including citizens and people in authority, and leaders of various organizations have capitalized on its benefits of being able to share the 280-character messages known as ‘tweets’ (Hargittai & Litt, 2011, Rogstad, 2016; Kaplan & Haenlein, 2011). It is common knowledge that political actors such as Donald Trump, the president of the United States of America, use a social media site like Twitter to tweet his concerns on critical national issues. His tweets set the news agenda in online and mainstream media.

Instagram, which was released in 2010, was originally made for sharing photos and videos of people and their daily events. Over time, the social media application has been used for more than sharing photos of people to sharing updates of issues happening around them. Unlike Twitter, Instagram does not limit the number of characters. It therefore allows users to write long captions alongside the images or videos they share. Studies on Instagram suggest that since its inception, the social networking application has been used particularly by politicians in addition to already existing social networking applications as a “visual billboard” where they share information about their activities (Towner and and Munoz, 2018; Filimov, Russman & Stevenson, 2016).

According to the Pew Research Center (2015), former presidents of the United States of America such as Barack Obama adopted social media channels to frequently address Americans on a variety of issues. Tweets of personalities such as him serve as first-hand sources of information for

journalists and are quoted in news stories by big media organizations such as the BBC, Aljazeera and CNN.

Additionally, bloggers and freelance journalists also use Twitter and Instagram to share their stories, enabling people to comment and raise similar issues. Simply, Twitter and Instagram are no longer just for popular personalities in the entertainment industry but for personalities in politics, education and even religion because they allow for free exchange of ideas nationally and globally, between people who share in similar experiences who may or may not share the same ideas, providing them with the opportunity to engage in critical debate (Vonbum et al, 2016; Maclean et al, 2013). Some researchers have observed that Twitter has on several occasions defeated online and mainstream news outlets on several recent breaking international stories.

            Twitter and Instagram in Ghana

According to the International Telecommunications Union, internet adoption rate in Ghana has increased substantially from 7.9 million in 2014 to an estimated 10.3 million users in 2019, representing about 35 per cent of Ghana’s population. This suggests that more people will also be users of various social media platforms which, in its diverse forms, has become a basic use of the internet. Statistics by Global Stats Counter indicate that Ghana has 82.57% and 9.41% Facebook and Twitter users respectively. YouTube and Instagram follow with 2.66% and 1.1% users respectively (International Telecommunications Union, 2016; Global Stats Counter, 2018).

Twitter and Instagram are among popular social media platforms in Ghana. From tweeting and posting about musical concerts happening at weekends to lashing out at politicians, the two platforms are gradually taking on a form as newsrooms without the supervision of editors. The statistics of Twitter and Instagram users by Globalstatscounter.com as of January 2019 showed

that about 9.41% and 1.1% of the country’s population are active Twitter and Instagram users respectively. People tweet their opinions, share news stories and engage with the tweets and posts of other people. In Ghana, the ownership of Twitter and Instagram accounts or handles is not limited to just individuals. The demand to get closer to consumers of news has made media organizations also create user accounts to share and interact with their followers. Several media houses in Ghana monitor the Twitter and Instagram accounts of newsmakers and prominent personalities. Whenever something of national interest happens, journalists presumably go right to the social media accounts of these prominent people to find out what they are saying about the issue. Their posts later become headlines and, in most cases, are used as quotes in news stories.

For instance, during the 2016 Presidential Elections in Ghana, media houses monitored the Twitter and Facebook accounts of all the contestants for days and hours up to the declaration of the results. Big online news organizations in Ghana such as Myjoyonline.com, Ghanaweb.com, Ghananewsagency.com and Citifmonline.com picked up congratulatory posts to Akufo-Addo that were published by presidential aspirants like Papa Kwesi Nduom and Edward Nasigre Mahama on their social media pages to use as quotes in their online stories. Some of the posts were written as scripts and used for radio and television news stories, supporting the latter with screenshots of the messages as evidence. Currently, almost all media houses in Ghana who operate online news websites have active social media pages through which they share content such as live news feeds, photos and short clips. The reporters for the online media in turn monitor what their followers are discussing to get fresh leads to stories.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, internet adoption rate in Ghana has increased substantially from 7.9 million in 2014 to an estimated 10.3 million users in 2019, representing about 35 per cent of Ghana’s population. This suggests that more people will also be

users of various social media platforms which, in its diverse forms, has become a basic use of the internet. Though some of the statistics may not be too significant, it is known that these platforms receive considerable engagement on discussions ranging from the criticism of politicians to economic and social issues as well as entertainment. The use of hashtags has become a common phenomenon that social media users employ, sometimes, to engage in a particular conversation, whether fighting for a cause or drawing the attention of media organizations to particular issues. Hashtags like #DoSomething which was used on Twitter and Instagram to fight for a defiled four- year-old girl in Ghana drew the attention of the media to call on authorities to act quickly and give the girl justice.

Therefore, with the rise of social media use coupled with the rise of online news websites which deliver news in a faster way, there seem to be some kind of intermedia agenda-setting relationship between online news websites and social media in Ghana. Several traditional media organizations which operate television, radio and newspapers have vibrant online portals that publish stories before they are disseminated onto other platforms. Subsequently, they have become more interactive by paying attention to their social media platforms too. Live blogs of events, social media user posts and amateur videos are incorporated into their online feeds. Links and excerpts of stories are usually shared on social media for further discussion and reaction from social media users. Sometimes, the interactions on stories give online and mainstream media organizations other leads to follow. They also connect reporters to other offline sources as well as quotes to include in news stories This is as a result of the comments that social media users add to the links before sharing. In view of this and giving how much engagement takes place on social media, journalists are constantly looking to tap into social media’s news newsgathering potential while using it as a new tool to engage audience and distribute the news in a faster way (Knight and Cook, 2013;

Groshek & Groshek, 2013). At some point in time, trending issues on social media are developed from different angles as major news stories for online news websites.