By Safa Gangat
Social media has managed to become one of the top sources for news and information dissemination; a by-product of our digital era where social networking websites are at the tips of everyone’s fingers. Internet users likely thrive on convenience and people like Mark Zuckerberg have made that the exact appeal of social media platforms. And now receiving news has become part of that convenience with a simple scroll down an updated feed.
Following, liking, or subscribing to your favourite news organization gives you the next big headline as easy as keeping in touch with friends and family online. But what does that mean for the news organizations and journalists alike? A lot of needed changes, perhaps both good and bad.
Let’s first take a look at when news began being part of social media and users’ everyday use.
An Evolving Relationship
It seems the constant posts by profiles that weren’t of friends but rather advertisements and other content was starting to upset Facebook users. In January 2018, Facebook announced big changes to the News Feed and reconfiguring its algorithms to prioritize content from friends and family over that of companies but also giving priority to news articles from sources considered more ‘credible’.
Facebook's change is positively affecting how news on the platform is received. Evelyn Kwong, Social Media Producer - Toronto Star told VIBE105 that receiving news from Facebook or Twitter is like having curated lists.
“People prefer that kind of format with friends sharing information. There’s a trust issue with getting news from social media but when a friend receives it from a friend, it’s a bit better, more trustworthy.” - Kwong
As for the journalists, they might have to have to do quite a bit of work to keep up with this trend; optimize their social media to promote their content and work, while also having to promote who they work with. Journalists are now expected create an actual relationship with the audience that they didn’t necessarily have before.
Gone are the days where people are satisfied with what editors put out, people want journalists to cater to the trends, which includes the trends on social media.
Kwong confirms the importance of social media trends on news content. “At the Star, we always think about what's trending, a lot of our stories are based on social media trends”. But that does not mean anything that is trending will go up on a news organization’s website, content is still tailored to locality while providing news as fast as possible through social media, Kwong explains.
Terra Tailleur, Assistant Professor at the University of King’s College Digital Journalism Program and Vice-President at the Canadian Association of Journalists believes Social Media has changed everything for journalists.
“If you look at journalists and news on a continuum; how they get story ideas, find people, contact sources, and distribute the content – social media has changed it all. Getting the stories out and having people engage with them is something journalists really have to factor in.” - Tailleur
Tailleur also discusses how social media has added a positive avenue for journalism as platforms allow for access to diverse communities.
“You have all these communities that have sprung up and journalists need to get out of their bubble and think about them because you’re able to investigate groups you have nothing in common with. Being able to explore them is important.” -Tailleur
Although traditional journalists have had a problem with Twitter’s news tweeting. In 2009, Daniel Schorr, a Veteran Washington journalist who broke major stories during the Cold War and Watergate scandal, said on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition that “Twitter accounts of events lacked rigorous fact-checking and other editorial improvements.”
It seems Schorr’s comment definitely had more support in the later years. Cision’s 2017 Canadian Social Journalism Study found more than half of journalists can’t do their work without social media but 68% of them are concerned about fake news.
Answering how to correct the issue of fake news is a difficult one, but Tailleur proposes it could start with understanding how vital it is return to verification and fact checking, because of the problematic fake accounts we see.
The Audience Have Something to Say
The trend of people receiving news social media is backed with much evidence. A 2017 study by Statista shows that 40 percent of Canadians use Facebook to receive news, while 18% and 11% use YouTube and Twitter respectively. Another Statista study in 2017 showed that 33 percent of worldwide consumers used social media as their main source of news.
Statistics aside, this ever growing social media and news relationship has become a trend that has changed the way news is interacted with online and how citizen journalism as a result, is becoming common more than ever before - social media giving the average people a platform to do it adequately.
Social media also allows for critique of journalism because of the interactive feature, giving the audience more of a say in the matter.
“The audience can say whether it’s good or bad right away, if they like it or don’t. We (journalists) definitely try to be careful and more objective as possible but the biggest thing is having people engage with the piece.” - Kwong
The extent to which the audience has a large effect on what they choose to see on the news or the nature of feedback, might still be in limbo.
Tailleur explains why there is a need for balance in that respect. “It’s a challenge for journalists; you want to see the impact of your story by tracking the feedback and still be independent with your work and consider different point of views.”
Protests and social movements such as the Black Lives Matter or #MeToo have risen because of how social media fosters discussions and debates about what people see on news. People want to bring important debates to platforms they can control.
News organizations and journalists appear to have adapted quite well to the social media landscape. Most, if not all, now have various social media accounts that are constantly pushing out posts and headlines about a plethora of topics. Journalists have a 24/7 job of maintaining their own social media accounts and churning out topics of discussion with their followers, and avid social media users are enjoying every bit. The social movements and constant debates driven by news could perhaps be the next stage of democratic debate in the online world and journalists, the future gatekeepers of this new addition.