With the ubiquity of personal mobile phones and the low cost of data, Mobile Instant Messaging applications have become popular with ordinary citizens and professionals. WhatsApp, one of the MIM applications, is growing rapidly, allowing its users to send and receive not only text but also to share real-time locations, images, voice recordings, documents, and videos. Journalists are increasingly using WhatsApp to communicate with their sources and in their reporting process.
Tomas Dodds of the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at the Leiden University in the Netherlands examined the purpose and advantage of using WhatsApp among journalists in two newsrooms in Chile applying ethnography method.
Results showed that the use of WhatsApp has affected the relationship between journalists and sources both on a personal and professional level. The use of WhatsApp fostered intimacy and mutuality among journalists, their colleagues, and their sources. For example, when a journalist is assigned to write a report, colleagues or editors send him some contacts to use as sources with instructions like “send them a WhatsApp message first, if they don’t reply soon enough, well… then call them.” Shortly after texts to sources, responses started coming back containing a big number of smiley faces, thumbs-up, and praying hands, which people actually use to mean “please” or “thank you.”
Traditionally, in journalism there were only two options for a source to share information rapidly to a large number of journalists: Either a press release was sent to the newsroom or a source needed to call a press conference. But using WhatsApp made it easier because many stories landed safely in a journalist’s phone, although challenges remain in using this application. A journalist said, “The same information quickly reaches different media… I think that is very good. But of course, the risk is that many times because of the laziness, you could miss important information.”
To read the full text of the study: https://bit.ly/2IIiZNM
Dodds, T. (2019). Reporting with WhatsApp: Mobile Chat Applications’ Impact on Journalistic Practices. Digital Journalism, 1-21.