Social media editors and the audience funnel: tensions between commercial pressures and professional norms in the data-saturated newsroom

Tai Neilson*, Timothy A. Gibson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores the changing roles of Social Media Editors (SMEs) in the field of journalism, focusing on their unique position as mediators between online news consumers, marketing departments, and newsrooms. Based on in-depth interviews, our findings suggest that, far beyond their origins as comment field moderators, SMEs now play a crucial role in integrating complex behavioral data from social network sites and circulating this data in the newsroom to align news production with perceived audience tastes. Our findings also suggest that while SMEs identify with traditional norms of professional journalism, they also work closely with staff in marketing departments and draw on marketing language and imagery when describing their work. Ultimately, we find that our SME participants experience their increasingly central role in the newsroom in contradictory and ambivalent ways, at times defending traditional professional values, while at other times voicing support for audience sovereignty and giving readers what they want. In this way, if Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory suggests that journalism is structured by an ongoing struggle between exogeneous (commercial and marketing) logics and endogenous professional values, the changing roles of SMEs indicate the arrival of a new stage in this struggle – a stage marked by the deep and virtually uncontested advance of marketing terminology and goals into the journalistic field. In this restructured professional field, individual SMEs are thus left with the difficult task of reconciling, at the level of habitus, internalized tensions between ascendant marketing imperatives and residual but still-cherished journalistic dispositions and values.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)556-578
Number of pages23
JournalDigital Journalism
Issue number4
Early online date1 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • engagement
  • subscription news
  • Bourdieu, Pierre
  • political economics of communication
  • Bourdieu
  • digital journalism
  • subscription


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