The list of social media tools could probably run on for paragraphs, and today’s technology changes so rapidly that many industries, including corporations and news media, can barely keep up. In the traditional world, newspapers, corporations, governments, or other types of leading organizations simply had to give out information, and people would consume it by reading or looking at it. But this seemingly tried-and-true method is transforming.
Simply making information available is not enough for today’s public. Today’s audiences expect to be able to choose what they read, and most believe they should be able to contribute content and opinions, too. This shift, sometimes called the social media revolution, is not the death of journalism as America always knew it; it’s the birth of a democratic movement that emphasizes some of journalism’s key factors: transparency, honesty, and giving a voice to the person who doesn’t have one.
Many traditional and non-traditional media outlets report and comment on how the Internet and social media, especially social networking, have begun to seriously affect news organizations and how they operate. Although newspapers currently face a crisis on how to make the news profitable in the digital age, that isn’t this report’s main focus. How papers will make money has been talked to death. So, instead, this report will focus on how social media, especially social networking sites like Twitter, has begun to affect the news organizations and changed — for better or worse — how journalists perform their jobs every day.
The main purpose of this report is to learn how the social media revolution has changed and will continue to change journalism and news organizations. To understand social media and its effects, one must read and analyze information gathered through journal articles, interviews and observations as this report has done. The report is broken into subtopics: a summary of the current state of traditional media; definitions and background information on what social media and social journalism are; social media tools professionals use and why; current event case studies in which social media played a role in reporting the news; ethical issues surrounding the social media shift; and how the future of the news media might look as a result of social media.
The report will respond to one simple, yet rather complex, question: What impact has social media had on news organizations? A question like this cannot be answered straightforward but must instead be explored. While the report will focus on what has already occurred, it will also look to the future and will consider whether public opinions of the mainstream media have helped spawn and accelerate the birth of the social media revolution. Results will lead the report to offer three areas within journalism that social media has significantly touched: the public’s trust of the news media in relation to social media; the relationship between local news organizations and social media; and how news is and will be covered using social media tools.
Media industry publications and critics often mention a media shift from traditional outlets, like newspapers and magazines, to digital news sources. Going a step beyond simply being online, media organizations have begun to consider how news organizations use social media tools to keep their audiences and, most importantly, to keep bringing in funds to support themselves. Myriad opinions and ideas on the topic exist on social media’s presence in the journalism world; the volume of information can seem overwhelming.
However, this report will attempt to explain what has occurred and hypothesize on what the future holds for a world containing independent journalism and social media tools. The research gathered for this report can be grouped into four categories: the current state of traditional and social media; popular social media tools and how media use them; ethical issues surrounding journalists’ use of social media tools; and how a two-way, conversationally driven world will change journalism.
Understanding where traditional news organizations currently stand requires one to understand how audiences consume their news and what they think about the news business as it stands. Surveys by news organizations and foundations offer a way to understand the public’s thoughts quantitatively. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted a survey in which it found, overall, respondents have less confidence that news organizations strive to report accurate, politically unbiased news than they had a few decades ago. In fact, the public’s confidence has reached its lowest level in more than two decades.
First and foremost, the researcher gathered preliminary information using two main strategies: staying up-to-date on current events and industry news and following conversations and communications professionals on Twitter. In this report’s case, the researcher watched CNN most weekday mornings and checked in with Twitter a few times a day. The researcher received and scanned multiple daily e-mails, including social media-related newsletters, from MediaPost and AdvertisingAge.
Also, the researcher engaged in a few Monday “#journchats” on Twitter to see into professional journalists’ minds, hear — or, rather, see — what they talk about in relation to the industry and perhaps even engage in conversation with said professionals. In fact, the researcher located public relations professional Chris Martin, by pitching a request for comment on the project’s topic via Twitter and the #journchat. The tweet read: “I’m researching journalism & social media for a school project — anyone willing to chat with me for a few minutes some time? #journchat 7:11 PM Oct 12th from TweetDeck.”
In addition to keeping up with the news and Twitter, the researcher also found numerous articles and related excerpts in communications-related books, journals, magazines, Web sites and blogs. Most articles and data were found using search engines and databases provided through the Friedsam Memorial Library. Finally, it was also important to locate surveys trusted research organizations like the Pew Research Center had conducted on journalism and news organizations. Combining information from articles and secondary surveys gave the researcher quantitative and qualitative data that was used to discuss the report’s purpose, which is to identify how social media has impacted journalism and news organizations.
Before jumping into social media, it is important to understand the current circumstances surrounding traditional news media outlets. According to Jack Loechner, “Newspapers have a legacy of breaking news and uncovering stories of historic proportion, yet they are losing ground to a generation of consumers embracing digital and mobile alternatives” (Loechner 2). Despite this, according to a Pew Research Center survey on public perceptions of the news media, TV remains the dominant news source, with 71 percent of respondents saying they favor TV and 33 percent citing newspapers as their preference (“Public”).
While TV may dominate right now, the biggest declines in traditional media usage are with the 18-to-24-year-old market. Loechner found young adults of this age group rank the Internet as more important than TV (Loechner 1). With the younger generation’s lack of patience comes its desire for speedy news and information, and the Internet can give just that. However, this desire troubles Geneva Overholser.
Without a doubt, by examining the all the results, one can conclude social media certainly has affected journalism and will continue to affect it in the future. While many aspects of journalism have been touched, social media has brought to light three fundamental areas within journalism: the public’s trust of the media; the importance of local news organizations and their likelihood to remain in print; and the manner in which news is and will be covered using social media.
The public’s trust, or lack thereof, in the media may have played a role in causing the social media revolution. Social media has shown the value of local news organizations as well as the advantages the new tools can bring small media organizations. Finally, social media has given journalists new ways to report and has opened the door for members of the general public who have something to say but can’t go through a journalist for one reason or another.
In general, although the American public tends to believe watchdog journalism is important, many Americans in this day and age feel reluctant to trust mainstream media, according to the public perceptions survey. They feel big business or politics or other aspects have overshadowed independent journalism, and in many instances, some, especially the younger population, have lashed out by resorting to online and social media, although not completely deserting the mainstream news organizations themselves (Loechner).
Social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube offer skeptical audiences the chance to receive news straight from the witnesses. Rather than relying on a reporter to speak with someone at an explosion in Montana, audiences can reach out and speak to eyewitnesses themselves. Or if they are one of those witnesses, they can share their story with the world before reporters even arrive on the scene (Lowery).
The situation in Montana brings one to the next important area: local media. As we become a more global world, we also become a more local world. We want to know what’s going on internationally as well as down the street because all of it affects us directly or indirectly. While international conglomerate media organizations may be seemingly failing right now, these types of organizations may find the most success in social media in the long run. However, because fewer options tend to exist for local news, local news organizations traditional media are still fairly intact and will remain fairly strong for the foreseeable future. In addition to maintaining traditional print and broadcast news, local news organizations like Lowery’s in Montana have been able to add to this local media success using social media. Also, this can help smaller organizations report important local information to large, distant media organizations that may not be there right away.
Local organizations can also obtain sources and disseminate breaking news using social media tools. The way local news organizations use social media can also apply to international and national organizations. These uses are fairly obvious, but with a little imagination, the possibilities and ways journalists can use social media will increase, improve and be able to change the world of journalism, most likely making it more honest and transparent.
Finally, as it has already done to a degree, social media will continue to change the way journalists gather and report the news. Reporters can find sources and disseminate information using social media tools. Eyewitnesses will become reporters, but the world will still need “traditional” journalists to go in and verify the facts. Perhaps in the future, professional journalists won’t be so much pure information disseminators but truth disseminators. If you want to see what people say is happening right now, check Twitter; if you want to see what’s actually true and what might be false, check CNN or The New York Times. In the end, no matter the direction it moves in or the new shape or form it takes, news organizations will never cease to exist as long as democracy and freedom of speech exists.
Researchers will develop plenty of detailed questions as the social media and journalism worlds continue to collide. How can news organizations make money from this? How can audiences and journalists sort truth from error? What will happen to print editions of large newspapers?
These and hundreds of other questions involving the future of journalism could be responded to in a million different ways, and the next generation of journalists and communications professionals will decide what will work best to preserve the basic premise of journalism: Witnessing an event and telling the story about it. After all, story telling, the defining thread of journalism, no matter what strange and new forms it may take, will never, ever cease to exist.