Social Media and Journalism

It’s obvious that the world of social media has affected the world of journalism. I am a journalist by trade, but the profession definitely needs to adapt in order to survive.

For example, over the summer there was a tornado just outside Toronto. At first I watched the local news in order to get the details (weather warnings, etc.) but I quickly switched to Twitter for my news.

While the television stations stuck with expert reports from their journalists and PR people, the Internet was already full of eyewitness accounts. As the TV hosts plastered email addresses and phone numbers on the screen, hoping to hear first-person accounts, I was watching YouTube videos of the tornado just minutes after it happened. By the time the weather had improved and the traditional media was hyping photo galleries of user-submitted photos, I had already seen as much as I needed to through Twitter.

The next day news stations were showing the very videos I had watched on YouTube the day before. It was a very concrete example of how social media is superior to traditional media in regards to breaking news.

However, that doesn’t mean newspapers and television and radio are no longer required. In fact, in means that they’re even more necessary than before. Anyone can put together a blog. Anyone can have a Twitter feed. That’s great because it allows you to get multiple viewpoints almost instantaneously. However, who is verifying those comments? An untrue comment can be retweeted and spread just as quickly as a fact. Sure, most people will consider the source before trusting something, but once a comment has been forwarded several times the original source usually disappears from the thread, leaving a disembodied comment that cannot be verified.

Traditional media needs to learn that they can’t beat the Internet when it comes to breaking news. They can’t possibly put something on the air as quickly as someone with a cell phone camera and an Internet connection can. However, what they can do is provide context and verify the facts.

I will find eyewitness accounts of breaking news online, television doesn’t need to do that for me. What they need to do is give me details. They need to give me the back story. They need to give me the facts. They need to do the hard work that they are getting paid to do. Let a blog scoop you on a story but, when you report that story later, make your version even better.

The problem is that traditional media is lazy. It takes time and money and effort to put together an in-depth report on an important issue. It’s much, much easier to simply throw out some basic facts and follow it up with an iReport video from an eyewitness. It’s easier, but that’s not what we need.

This is why something like Tewspaper bothers me.

“Tewspaper scours social media websites such as Twitter and filters messages down to breaking news,” says their press release. That’s not what we need. I don’t need another online source for news. Google News and Twitter Search give me all the news I need. I need context and analysis.

If traditional media doesn’t start to realize this, it will die. Blogs are rapidly catching up. There are major blogs that employ staff and have the resources that could rival many television stations and newspapers. It’s only a matter of time before those blogs realize what traditional media hasn’t: People don’t want more news, they want better news.

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