At the dawn of social media, most reporters saw the technology as a tremendous tool to connect with news and sources. Now, though, social media has come to be a competition for traditional media. With this shift comes inevitable suspicion. Reporters just don’t view social media as the benign but useful tool they once did. Now that tool threatens their careers … and, some believe, the very institution of journalism.
Recent surveys of US journalists and other media professionals reveal that, while 42 percent of those responding use at least five different social media platforms, more than half of those who responded are worried that the social media is having a negative impact on journalism. Between hyper-partisan sharing and “fake news,” journalism is not faring well in the social media era.
While even most of the suspicious are not social media teetotalers, there are some in the field who steadfastly refuse to interact on social media at all. These holdouts, though, appear to be a dying breed. Social media, far from falling out of favor, is growing and thriving, and now many traditional media sources regularly quote content from social media in their reports.
More still, reporters are using social media to connect and interact with viewers, readers, and fans. These interactive opportunities can pay big dividends for the media because they create a direct link to the people news producers need to reach. According to the survey, about one-fifth of journalists interact with their audiences on an hourly basis. And, as real-time social media interaction increases, this number is likely to rise as well.
Most reporters seem to view this interaction as a net positive, though they still don’t trust social media. Less than half believe social media has had a positive impact on their profession.
The reasons for this are varied.
First, of course, is the splintering of audiences. The more audiences are separated, the more difficult it is to earn ratings, market share, and advertising dollars. Numbers that used to be middle of the pack for TV audiences are considered successes in the age of social media.
Many consumers are not getting their news from TV at all, especially breaking news and developing stories. For these, the direct connection and instant nature of social media have taken over. In many cases, breaking news reports on TV include audio or video previously released on social media.
Next, is the loss of journalistic values and ethics in media. From clickbait to outright scam stories, the content on social media is largely unregulated, leaving consumers to sort through the barrage of targeted content. Most don’t do the best job of that, sharing reflexively without properly sourcing the information. That elevates and promotes dubious information, obscuring factual stories by default.
Despite these challenges, social media is the prevailing trend, and journalists would do well to find a way to thrive within it, rather than trying to hold onto a media environment that is fading fast.