Social media has caused a fundamental shift in how we communicate with each other. And it has caused a fundamental shift in how news is reported and broken. Newsgathering has been forever altered it. It is no longer solely top down or broadcasting out; rather, multiple layers of conversations and interactions are happening all at the same time.
Thanks to social media, journalists have the opportunity to connect with stories and sources quicker and frankly easier with a Google or hashtag search than going to an organization’s public relations department. Often bypassing the PR function of an organization. Then add in citizen journalist as another dimension to media.
The speed at which news is broken has been quickened. The 24-hour/7-day news cycle created by cable news networks in the 1980s no longer exists. Today social media has accelerated the news cycle. The news now is by the minute. In his autobiography A Journey: My Political Life, former Prime Minister Tony Blair talks about an incident on the campaign trail in 2001, when his Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott punched a protester after someone threw an egg at him from close range. Blair comments that they had until the next press briefing to strategize how they were going to approach this damaging situation. Those 24 hours were golden. If that incident happened today, someone would film the incident with a mobile phone and upload it to YouTube within 30 seconds, then share it via Twitter or Facebook in 60 seconds. Gone are the days of having until the next media briefing to deal with a situation.
Social media has changed the news-gathering landscape. There are now citizen journalists “reporting” news as it is breaking in many cases replacing traditional news organizations as the first source of the story. Thanks to YouTube, we are now able to see and understand what is happening around the world like never before, and viewers and news organizations alike are eating it up.
Everyone has an entry into the public sphere either through Twitter or Facebook or other digital means. Organizations can no longer manage their reputations solely through traditional mainstream media. While placement in mainstream media such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, CNN, or BBC is still important, non-traditional media outlet such as The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, Slate, and The Atlantic are equally important. The venerated American weekly, Newsweek, discontinued their print version and will be an online only publication.
The traditional media does not own the news today. Traditional media isn’t the gatekeeper it once was. While it can facilitate, verify, and/or host discussions around news, traditional media is no longer the intermediary of news it once was. Media consumption has gone from passive to interactive.
Despite the fact that the news media is no longer in the driver’s seat, social media has been positive for journalism. It allows for more access to sources and information. Journalists have always interviewed and used eyewitness accounts to tell stories. Social media has greatly expanded the opportunities to connect with sources. With the good, we still have to be cautious. Whole stories can be harvested directly from social media, based on trending topics and what people are saying on the various platforms. But there is a danger to basing stories solely on social media. The attitude still exists that if it is typed up on the Internet, then it must be true. In theory, social media gives journalists a much wider news-gathering capability, but we may not be getting the full picture. People on all sides of a conflict or situation are using social media to get their views out. And there could be biases at play. While this isn’t new, biases have always been out there due to the speed of social media, the vetting process is often either shortened or circumvented. Verifying content is a massive issue facing news organizations today. Before social media, checks and balances would have been used to verify stories before they were reported to the public. Today, content is bypassing traditional media and entering the public sphere without those pre-checks. It is being openly discussed and analyzed in real-time.
News organizations must determine how much to report on any given content. The fact that people are talking about posted content and are sharing it makes it part of the story. The race to break news first has led many news organizations to be conflicted. Think of recent examples: Boston Bombing, Navy Yard shooting, and LAX shooting. If a news organization runs an unverified photograph, video, or breaking news, it gives the content weight that it may not deserve.
Social media, despite challenges, is positive for news organizations. Like other types of organizations, new organizations are coming to terms with social media and how they fit into this sphere. There will be missteps along the way. News organizations, like corporations, are still working out how to use social media tools.
This is post is based on a chapter in my book, Social Media Crisis Communications: Preparing for, Preventing, and Surviving a Public Relations #Fail. Want to read more? Buy the book now.
Social Media Crisis Communications: Preparing for, Preventing, and Surviving a Public Relations #Fail is now available in eBook format. Buy it now! (If you like the book, please leave a review; it is greatly appreciated)
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