St. Lawrence University
Iqra Khan

Name: Iqra Khan
Professor: Stephen Barnard   
                Comparative Analysis between the Journalist vs Activist approach to Ferguson

The impact of the events in Ferguson, Missouri had a huge influence on people through social media websites like Twitter and Facebook (Diem, 2014). It is important to analyze the ways in which different people utilize these platforms in order to engage and influence their audience.  Therefore, for my research, I wanted to compare and contrast the different approach utilized by activists and journalists as they unveil the Ferguson incident. This comparison will help answer a few questions that include the different strategies used by journalists and activists in their posts. What kind of speech do they use? Are the tweets more affective or objective in nature? I will also try to predict whether journalists or activists have a greater influence or following based on the number of retweets and likes they get on their Twitter posts. This analysis will help us breakdown the different approaches utilized by both activists and journalists.

Literature Review:
Social media has revolutionized the ways in which we receive our information today. Today we see that there is immense growth within the news media but alongside the innovations in the news media, we find that social platforms like Twitter have taken the spotlight in the recent years by evolving into an information exchange based platform by individual citizens, media outlets and even famous personalities (Barnard, Page 191). Twitter has become an easily accessible, more manageable and cost effective tool for professionals and non- professionals that want to actively take part in distributing and reproducing journalistic news worthy material (Barnard, page191).
This rise of Twitter and other social media platforms has given birth too many forms of journalism including “media activists” (Cheung).  Media activists utilize social media in order to spread their message across many use platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, where they provide firsthand accounts and live feed about events and incidents that occur. Some activists use affective methods. An affective approach is a technique that encompasses subtleties of intonation and phrasing (Campbell, Pg2). It reveals information about the individual’s relationship with subject and is expressive in nature. Therefore, affective expression is based out of emotion. Compared to the affective approach, an objective approach is more like observational reporting because it lacks emotion and personal opinion. The objective approach is widely used by journalistic approach (Cheung). For many journalists, activists provide a threat to their work simply because their approach may lack strategy and accurate analysis of an incident which may question the credibility of the source of information they provide. (Cheung). Therefore, journalists adopt a strict observational method that is factually reported in order to make sure their source is credible and fulfills the journalistic requirements compared to activists that may use credible sources but may incorporate personal opinions to their sources. 
Jackson & Welles suggest that most Americans have always followed the traditional way of receiving their news information through elite institutions (Jackson & Welles, Pg 398). On the other hand, a number of minority groups utilize other platforms in order to portray their view points by communicating and providing information that encourage mainstream media to acknowledge their realities (Jackson & Welles, Pg 398). The study indicates that the presence of alternative forms of information through social media outlets like twitter is a less dominated platform compared to other media outlets. It has a less controlled space and also provides an open window for participation and contribution. Social media has therefore, become a tool that provides those who lack a dominant voice. It has helped many like Antonio French to become activists. Allowing them to provide news worthy information along with personal opinion and expression on the subject. Such accessibility with just a click of a button has given many activists the recognition they received (Jackson & Welles, Pg 399).

Jackson & Welles illustrate that although online activism can be more inactive in terms of social change recent work reveals that social media, especially twitter, indeed has the power, to elevate the counter public stance and voice that draw attention of the main stream public sphere. An example of this can be taken from the Arab Spring in Egypt. Egyptian news media was highly censored and only shared one perspective of the revolution that portrayed the protestors as violent. On the other hand, the protestor’s used social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to show how they protested via pictures, videos and constant postings which led many people to change their stance and view of the protestors( Meraz, 140.
One comparison made suggests that unlike traditional news journalists, activists utilize an affective approach that incorporates emotion, visuals and substance which can be strong enough to attract a significant audience and which may give many activists an edge on influencing the public opinion (Jackson & Welles, Pg 399). Further, Jackson & Welles found that the in the Ferguson incident, crowdsourced activists displayed high popularity by gaining retweets on their posts scoring more than 14.71% of retweets and 5.60% mentions (Jackson & Welles, Pg 404).
An example between how activists and journalists approach their audience was given in the study done by Jackson &Welles where they analyzed the tweets from an activist and a journalist in the Ferguson incident. They found that activists constantly displayed personal opinions in their posts whereas journalists strictly used observational techniques and were more objective. (Jackson & Welles, Pg 406).
Other studies suggest that citizen content has made its impact by incorporating to news media culture (Wall & El Zahed, Page 3). They stress that the active part citizen’s play by providing news worthy information is increasing because many professional journalists may not be able to collect such intricate and close up details. Like Jackson & Welles, Wall & El Zahed also agree that information provided by active citizens or media activists are more personal and affective in nature compared to professional journalistic news (Wall & El Zahed, Page 3).
However, citizen content produced is not usually considered news worthy for many professional journalists. The authors suggest that although many citizen activists provide well developed information, backed up by visuals, like videos and images, their credibility is still doubted by many professionals (Wall & Zahed, Page 3).
Other criticism citizen journalist turned activists face is the way they portray their material which is considered graphic, more subjective in nature and therefore violate the norm of mainstream news media. They argue that the core issue is whether mainstream news usage of amateur content may actually provide authentic and credible changes to journalism (Wall & El Zahed, Page 14).
Another article by Sarah Sobieraj also suggests the different personas of activists and journalists which may give incite on the way they approach their audience. She indicates in her study that whereas activists groups aim to appear legitimate for journalists, the main goal is authenticity, by utilizing a strictly formulated strategy. For journalists, the evaluation of events is through its authenticity and they interpret any information that seems to be controlled as manipulative (Sobieraj, page 518).


For the analysis, I am using the Pulsar Software platform that will help collect the data from Twitter. The timeline selected for this research is be from August 9, 2014 to 16 August, 2014. I have chosen this timeline because I assume this is when the Ferguson incident received most of its coverage by social media platforms and the news media.  I also apply the following keywords: Police OR Riots OR Ferguson. I have chosen these keywords because I want to see how both, activists and journalists mention the following keywords in their posts. The application of the filters Police OR Riots OR Ferguson in the timeline of August 9, 2014 to 16 August, 2014 produced a wave of results. The results displayed 4116 results from the first week of the incident. After the application of the following timeline and keywords, I extracted a number of tweets from only activists and journalists that had the most tweets according to Pulsar. After collecting the filtered results I analyzed a total of 80 tweets, 40 from journalists and 40 from activists. In order to ensure equal representation, I have chosen four activists and four journalists for my analysis. These activists and journalists were highly active during the first week of Ferguson. I selected ten original tweets from each journalist and activist.  I randomly choose the tweets by selecting a tweet after every five tweets. .  For the journalists, I choose Matt Pearce, @mattdpearce, , Jim Dalrymple II @JimDalrympleII.,  Yamiche Alcindor, @Yamiche, and Wesley Lowery, @WesleyLowery For activists, I selected BrownBlaze, Johnetta Elzie @Nettaaaaaaaa, Antonio French @AntonioFrench and lastly Deray Mckesson @deray While studying the tweets, I recorded all the different ways journalists and activists report their information. This includes a number of trends like the tone of the tweeter, the number of retweets, the usage of visuals and the number of likes on the tweets.


The following chart above displays the twitter users that have the highest influence. In Pulsar, the section on “influence” indicates the greatest number of tweets by every tweeter. The bigger the circle the greater the influence the individual has. The tweeters in this chart are either journalists or activists that were actively reporting the events throughout the first week.
After carefully analyzing the 40 tweets from the four activists I found a number of themes and similarities between the ways in which activists tweeted. A majority of the tweets by activists were indeed more affective in nature as suggested by (Jackson & Welles, Pg 399) in their research. Most of the tweets possessed emotion and a reaction however, a few also were also objective in nature.
Below, I have coded some examples of tweets that are mainly affective. It is crucial to note that although the tweets are primarily affective in nature they do possess an objective tone as well. The first tweet by Johnetta Elzie is a perfect example of a tweet that is both affective and objective in nature. Johnetta illustrates what she has been told “people on bullhorns reminding folks that past 12am be prepared for anything from the police” This statement right here is objective in nature as it is factual reporting. The next statement “YOU CAN’T LOCK US ALL UP” is an opinionated statement made by Johnetta as a reaction and is therefore affective in nature.


Another evident characteristic in many of the tweets by activists was the words they used for the protesters. They portrayed protesters as “peaceful” and “innocent” while indicated that the police was “violent” against the protestors. I noticed however, that affective speech can be biased as it involves more opinions and beliefs rather than strictly factual information. Below are some examples that display such characteristics:

Another trend I was surprised to notice was that there were not a lot of visuals used by activists in their tweets. Although, there were a couple that incorporated links to images and videos a majority in my sample did not have a lot of videos or images. In my collected sample, out of the 40 tweets by activists only 10 included links to images and videos.
When analyzing the reactions to the tweets I found that many of the tweets received a great number of like and a few retweets as suggested by (Jackson & Welles, 404). I found that out of 40 tweets 27 received more than 200 likes and over 100 retweets. Comparing activist and journalist tweets alongside I found the tweets that were more affective in nature received more likes compared to those that were more objective in nature.

In contrast, when I analyzed the tweets by journalists there were many differences in the way they approached their audience. Unlike activists, journalists used a very objective tone in their tweets. The tweets lacked emotion and personal opinion that was widely seen in tweets by activists. Here are some examples below that illustrate the objective nature of the tweets:

Another interesting comparison I found was the way journalists differed in their description of the protestors. In many cases, journalists used the words “looters” to describe the protestors and instead of using the word “protest” they used the word riot a lot more. Here are some examples below that illustrate this finding:


One very interesting finding I did not expect was that journalists were actively incorporating visuals with their posts. Out of 40 journalist tweets 18 incorporated links to images and videos .These included images of the scene as well as videos. Finally, when analyzing the reactions on their posts I found that compared to activists, journalists received much less likes and retweets on their tweets. This many not be a surprise because of the vastly objective nature of the tweets by journalists.
The Pulsar platform comes with a number of limitations that may prevent obtaining accurate results. For my research, I could not rely on the expression emoji’s (negative, positive and neutral) on Pulsar in order to analyze the tone of the tweets. The Pulsar algorithms are unable to sense a range of emotions and can only categorize based positive or negative words. Because Pulsar lacked this feature I had to go through every tweet one by one which makes it inefficient. Another limitation I found was that not all information, such as the number of retweets or likes are translated accurately into Pulsar. A great number of tweets I analyzed indicated no reactions (retweets and likes) on Pulsar. However, when looking at the same tweet via twitter the results were different. This again required a step by step process of analyzing each tweet using Twitter along with Pulsar. For now relying on Pulsar along to display desired results may not be accurate and therefore requires personal judgement and referrals to twitter itself. Also, as I was the only researcher my research had a single perspective. Other contributions and perspectives would definitely give greater incite to the research. Finally, my sample size was very small and therefore my results may not be an accurate representation of the general approach of activists and journalists.


My analysis supports existing research on the approaches utilized by journalists and activists. As indicated by my results activists received more reactions on their tweets compared to journalists.  My findings compliment Jackson & Welles’s research that indicate the importance alternative platforms like twitter and Facebook and how they help provide activists a voice (Jackson & Welles, Pg 399). My results and research together do support that indeed activists and journalists differ in their speech when addressing their audience. Journalists have adapted to a strictly confined method that is scientific and objective whereas activists use affective expression in addressing their audience. Some results did not support existing research for example unlike Jackson and Welles suggest, I found that journalists were highly active in incorporating visual content compared to activists. This however, may not be an absolute accurate representation as my subsample was very small compared to the overall data. Overall, a majority of my results comply with existing research. The research would be more effective and would produce more concise results via the Pulsar platform in the future if Pulsar can add more features to help refine content analysis.  

Work Cited 

Barnard, Stephen R. "'Tweet or Be Sacked': Twitter and the New Elements of Journalistic Practice." 'Tweet or Be Sacked': Twitter and the New Elements of Journalistic Practice. Sage Journals, Feb. 2016. Web. 06 May 2016.

Meraz, Sharon, and Zizi Papacharissi. "Networked Gatekeeping and Networked Framing on #Egypt." Networked Gatekeeping and Networked Framing on #Egypt. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2016.

Sobieraj, Sarah. "Reporting Conventions: Journalists, Activists, and the Thorny Struggle for Political Visibility." Oxford Journals-Oxford University Press, n.d. Web.

Jackson, Sarah J., and Brooke F. Welles. "#Ferguson Is Everywhere: Initiators in Emerging Counterpublic Networks." Taylor & Francis. Routledge, 29 Dec. 2015. Web.

Wall, Melissa, and Sahar El Zahed. "Embedding Content from Syrian Citizen Journalists: The Rise of the Collaborative News Clip." Sign In. Sage Journals, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 06 May 2016.

Cheung, Kim. "What's the Difference Between Activism and Journalism?"Nieman Reports Whats the Difference Between Activism and Journalism Comments. Nieman Reports, n.d. Web. 06 May 2016.

Radford, Benjamin. "Media Mythmakers." Google Books. Prometheus Books, 2003. Web. 06 May 2016., Noel. "Ferguson and the Effect of Social Media Activism - Law Street (TM)." Law Street (TM). Law Street, 04 Dec. 2014. Web. 05 May 2016.

Campbell, Nick. "Expressive/Affective Speech Synthesis." - Springer. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2016.


Influence Chart
Tweets with affective and objective features
Biased tones
Objective tweets by journalists
journalistic tones