Traditional sports media has long held an instrumental role in the consciousness of sports fans. However, the emergence of social media has led to substantial changes within traditional sports journalism today. The process of institutionalization that helped traditional sports journalism thrive for so many decades in our society is now taking hold in sports news and content on social media. This shift in sports news has impacted the stability of traditional sports media in the digital age.
Institutionalization in social media sports
Institutionalization is a process that happens when there is a “reciprocal typification of habitualized actions by types of actors”(Berger & Luckmann, 1966, p. 72). The “habitualization” prerequisite is needed to achieve institutionalization, which is important because habits are involved in “all human activity” (Berger & Luckmann, p. 70, 1966). Humans in a given society collectively agree upon a set of norms and these habits become so ingrained that we unconsciously practice them. For example, there is a loose network of social media users called “NBA Twitter” (Neely-Cohen, 2016). This group of social media fans helped to popularize terms like “the Woj bomb,” which is used to signify a particular piece of important NBA news (Dunphy, 2018). Over time, “the Woj bomb” reached the general sports world after being habitualized by social media users. News analysts and even players use “Woj bomb,” and this phrase is now part of the basketball lexicon. A Woj bomb is when NBA insider Adrian Wojornowski breaks major news with a tweet. Writer Maxwell Neely-Cohen said that Twitter is the center of basketball fandom and it operates like “a central nervous system” (Neely-Cohen, 2016).
Habitually engaging with each other allows social media users to create socially constructed communities. They can access a favored social media app with a tap of the screen and find the news there. The habit-forming process related to institutionalization is essential because it relieves people from making too many decisions (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). The woj bomb’s constant usage on Twitter is an example of the social media sports community becoming an institution.
Social media is also institutionalized because of its emergence as a relevant medium to receive news content, especially in sports. Social media is effective because, according to writer Mark Griffiths, social media is most commonly accessed by smartphones, and this ease of access leads to excessive checking habits (Griffiths, 2018). Social media institutionalization is also emerging because social media platforms allow fans to follow their favorite athletes, teams, fan accounts, and other enthusiasts on a single platform. These personalizing qualities help keep people on social media platforms, thus institutionalizing social media networks as the primary hub of sports news. The convenience of social media is highlighted further because of data gathering practices that social media companies engage in. Users can see a specific type of sports news on their app based on the type of content they engage with. For example, if the Twitter algorithm sees that a user engages with an NFL team and the league in general, NFL content will be prominently displayed on that user’s timeline. Technically, Twitter’s algorithm accounts for tweets, retweets, favorites and other factors that are related to engagement (Agrawal, 2019). Boston University writer Jessica Swarm noted that a platform like Twitter allows players, fans, and teams to share content with ease (Swarm, 2018). Swarm also noted that engagement amongst fans on social media can give them a sense of community (Swarm, 2018). Institutions need social interactions related to communities to thrive in any society.
Impact of institutionalization of social media on traditional sports journalism
In the past, traditional media organizations were the only institution because they had widespread control over the production and dissemination of sports news. Institutions are well established organizations who partake in a particular field and have cultivated these practices over a period of time. Social media’s growing influence on society has impacted the established institution of media. Social media’s growing influence on society has impacted the established institution of media. Fans do not have to wait until the morning paper is available or even the evening news to get updates about their favorite players or teams. Moreover, fans can gain direct access to the accounts of athletes themselves (Swarm, 2018).
Traditional media companies have responded to social media pressures in many ways. According to the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated laid off nearly half of its editorial staff (Bogage & Strauss, 2019). The Sports Illustrated media operation is planning to replace journalists with freelancers and bloggers (Bogage & Strauss, 2019). This is important to note because it is an indication that traditional media organizations are morphing into social media-like entities. The wall of entry into certain industries have fallen because of the internet. No longer do well established media companies have the only means to create and disseminate news to the masses.
Some journalists resisted their autonomy in news production being challenged (Carlson, 2017). Traditional media believe that they are the gatekeepers in news creation (Vos & Ryan, 2018). Traditional journalists would denounce emerging UGC’s and question their tactics (McNair). According to Brian McNair, some traditional journalists believe that collaboration with UGC’s was necessary to survive (McNair, 2013). Traditional sports media outlets and UGC’s creators conduct shows, podcasts, interviews, and various other content. For example, the House of Highlights page owner decided to collaborate with sports media giant Turner Sports (Connolly, 2019). Turner Sports itself is a great example of media giants responding to social media because they own Bleacher sports. Bleacher sports is one of the most popular platforms today (Rogers, 2014). Overall, the traditional media is aware of the new digital era and many organizations have responded to the rise of social media. However, traditional journalism’s position as a leading institution in sports is still up in the air.
The habitualization of social media has allowed this platform to emerge as an institution for sports fans in the digital age. Social media has allowed fans to create online communities and easily engage with each other. Fans collectively engage with each other, forming norms and practices that define institutionalization and create online communities. Social media convenience helps to increase its popularity with fans. As a result, traditional media sports journalism organizations are being challenged as the leading institution in this sphere. Some journalists in traditional media outlets have proclaimed that they should be the leaders in news production (Carlson, 2017). Other journalists have responded by joining popular social media platforms to reach the masses. Times are changing and established media companies now have to decide how to respond in order to keep their seats at the table.
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