Published on July 24, 2014
I love Big Bird: How Journalists Tweeted Humor during the 2012 Presidential Debate Rachel Reis Mourao, Trevor Diehl and Krishnan Vasudevan
Do journalists have a sense of humor? Traditionally, political reporters have restrained their sense of humor in exchange for adherence to professional norms like objectivity, balance and a suppression of personal opinion (Mindich, 1998) Studies suggest that journalists express themselves more freely on Twitter, and also tend to be more transparent and accountable. Twitter format rewards savviness. Reporters have embraced humor as a form of engaging audiences while reporting the news (Holton & Lewis, 2011; Lasorsa, 2012; Lasorsa, Lewis & Holton, 2011).
From Aristophanes to Obama Although American politics is often characterized by its solemnity, the use of anecdotes, satires, parodies, cartoons, and political invective exercise an essential function in releasing tension by criticizing authorities and challenging the status quo (Schutz, 1977). In political communication, increasing acceptance that the lines between entertainment and information are becoming out-of- date, giving space to a broader definition of “politically relevant information” (Williams and Carpini, 2011). However, Stewart and Colbert are not bound by traditional journalistic norms…
Twitter “Twitter is the central news source for the Washington-based political news establishment. This filter-free new ecosystem is having a profound impact on how campaign strategists are deciding to present their candidates to the media and to voters” (Hamby, 2013)
Research questions To what degree did journalists used political humor to tweet about the first 2012 Presidential debate? RQ1: How are journalists’ professional affiliation and position (commentator versus reporter) associated with their use of political humor? RQ2. How is the use of humor associated with other forms of Twitter activity? H1. The use of political humor is positively associated with retweets. H2. The use of political humor is positively associated with mentions.
Method Content analysis: 4,366 tweets from 430 political journalists during the first 2012 US presidential debate (October 3, 2012). Tweets were coded based on the perception of the journalist’s attempt at humor: “Is the journalists trying to be funny?”
Results 17.9% of tweets had a humor attempt
Results Humor positively correlated with retweets Hypothesis 1 accepted Humor negatively correlated with: mentions and hyperlinks Hypothesis 2 rejected
To what degree did journalists used political humor to tweet about the first debate? 1) Humor was present across all types of journalists growing acceptance of the rhetorical device on Twitter, marking a break with traditional reporting practices. 2) Slightly larger percentage of humorous tweets among newspaper reporters. 3) Minor differences between non-commentators and commentators. 4) One Twitter activity is clearly linked to humor: the retweet.
Why is this important? Journalists have always indulged in humor. Social media simply elevates the level of transparency, revealing the “sausage-making” of news work. Retweeting has become a socially acceptable way to convey, and perhaps encourage, a rhetorical device not normally associated with professional reporting. Humor might be a means to effectively challenge or subvert elite news discourses that have long dominated the field of political communication.
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