With the proliferation of digital and social media in particular, non-traditional actors are entering journalism based on their personal rhetorical competencies, rather than their formal journalistic credentials. Among such actors are public debaters who establish themselves as professional opinion-makers and media personalities via ‘media provocations’. In this article, we develop a conceptual framework for studying how these media provocateurs emerge as influential personas in journalism. Whereas previous research has provided important insights into how similar non-traditional actors have challenged journalism from a sociological perspective, we adopt a rhetorical perspective on the phenomenon and describe how the provocateurs’ public persona constructions evolve in a sequential, cumulative, and transformative communicative process that cuts across different rhetorical situations in a hybrid media system. The proposed framework points to several future avenues of research into how non-traditional actors, such as media provocateurs, (micro-)bloggers, and social media influencers, may reflect the current state and direction of journalism.