Health Journalists’ Social Media Sourcing During the Early Outbreak of the Public Health Emergency

Xinzhi Zhang*, Rui Zhu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Although journalists’ social media sourcing can empower non-elite sources and diversify public discussions, counterarguments maintain that social media sourcing relies on a small group of elites and reinforces social division. To contribute to that debate, we examined how health journalists from the mainstream news organizations in the U.S. used Twitter’s @mention for sourcing during the first three months of the COVID-19 outbreak. Using a sample of public Twitter posts published by the journalists, we formed co-@mentioned networks (i.e., two sources were connected if @mentioned in the same post) to examine the structure of the networks and identify important sourcing informants. Among the results, elite sources (e.g., health journalists and health experts in the public sector) and influential users (i.e., verified users with a large number of followers and who post frequently) dominated the sourcing repertoire. Moreover, the networks were fragmented because the sources were clustered into several close-knit subgroups. Analyzing exponential random graph models to examine the formation mechanism of the networks revealed that, as the pandemic’s severity increased, influential users played a more salient role in the sourcing repertoire, and a homogeneous cluster consisting of journalists and news organizations emerged.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalJournalism Practice
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Aug 2022

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Communication

User-Defined Keywords

  • computational journalism
  • computational social science‌
  • health reporting
  • news sourcing
  • social media
  • social network analysis


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