Eric May – Media Consultant
  

 

 

 

Bloggers and social media (Web 2.0 applications like Facebook, Twitter, etc.) have become much more visible and successful in being the first at the scene of a big story, breaking news and correcting news organizations when they are wrong. Many are increasingly serving a “watchdog” role on the news media.


Bloggers and social media have also become news sources themselves in places where traditional media isn’t independent (Iran, Myanmar, China, Russia) and in one of the first examples, playing a significant role in documenting the events of the 2011 "Arab Spring" and countless other big stories since.

 

There has been some good user generated journalism coming from social media, and some mainstream journalists have proven themselves fluent in reporting with social media tools, but consider:

 

• Most social media content can’t be verified or confirmed

 

• Most blogs cancel each other out

 

• Opinions dominate over facts

 

• Anonymity on social media platforms encourages a “mob mentality” that is abusive and has been destructive

 

• Advertising is at the very center of social media

 

The huge valuations of companies like Twitter and Facebook are based only on the potential these companies have to sell the personal data they are gathering about their users to advertisers.

 

Unlike broadcast news (where advertising is “fenced off” – there are very specific areas where it cannot appear), advertising is at the center of social media and, worryingly, is increasingly disguised as authentic content as these companies try to match their relatively modest profit figures to their valuations.

 

The good news is that social media is an unparalleled opportunity to reach out to and engage audiences not traditionally “into” news; this can include creating “communities of interest” who follow specific issues, stories and people (Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign did this very successfully); social media is a great opportunity for interacting with audiences and getting direct feedback and critique.

 

So by all means don't ignore social media, but don’t get carried away. Television remains the dominant force in attracting audience share (and that's no matter how people get it – increasing numbers of people are now watching television online, and increasingly on mobile platforms).

 

That’s because television is extremely good at creating compelling stories, and so far social media's millions of “loose connections” haven’t figured out a way to do that.

 

Social media will continue to be a valuable complement to what news organizations do already, reporting the news in a serious way, but keep what it is, and, what it isn’t, in perspective.