What if social media became the world’s primary information and media conduit? We would live in a thoroughly real-time society where anything that happens anywhere reaches anyone who cares before the echo even fades. People would be constantly contributing to the infostream, in the process redefining what it means to be “news” and what it is to be a professional journalist.
Social media has turned out to be everything its proponents over the past decade said it could be, and then some. Regardless, having grown to become the world’s primary information and media conduit, social media has created a thoroughly real-time society where anything that happens anywhere can reach anyone who cares instantly. Hundreds of millions, even billions, of people are, more or less, constantly contributing to the rapidly growing infostream. It certainly has redefined what it is to be news. As such, it has also fundamentally redefined both the public’s expectations of and the techniques used by the journalists who serve that society. Social media has changed the way the world receives, interacts and reports the news.
News is not sought out by people anymore for the most part. It simply intersects with them as they go about their normal interactions with the constantly fluid collection of people they associate with through the dominant social networks of the day. It’s the full-grown evolution of the meme started by some college student who commented in some marketing focus group back in 2008, “If the news is that important, it will find me.” Back then when the New York Times reported that line and others picked up on it as pithy, it seemed a lazy and even intellectually dangerous attitude. But now that social networks have become so pervasive and complex in the range of people and attitudes to which any individual is connected, it pretty much works. Only people who seem to have made a conscious decision to really limit their worldview and idea exposure can avoid hearing about anything that seems to matter at least a little bit to some discernible subset of society.
It's the full-grown evolution of the meme started by some college student who commented in some marketing focus group back in 2008, "If the news is that important, it will find me."
Once they hear about it, they can choose to mine their sphere of social connections to learn more. If they become interested or discerning enough to start caring about separating pass-along from fact, they can choose to focus more attention on the parts of their social sphere they would expect to be more in the know, such as some particular journalists they like. And if they really want to get into a particular story in a really serious, detailed way, they can always turn to the more slow-view media such as digital magazines. But for the most part, people feel that what they pick up on through their social sphere is good enough – especially when the public has come to value knowing something immediately when everyone else knows it, over waiting to know something completely and for sure. It’s actually a very American democratic free-speech “marketplace of ideas” approach, expecting that the truth will win out in the end.
In a thoroughly real-time environment, people have started to expect their information to come to them, rather than having to seek out information and news themselves. Journalists and news consumers are constantly interacting with news and information as it is happening. The news consumer expects to know things as soon as the journalist does and wants raw information, even if it isn’t confirmed. They want to receive news as it happens, not after it happens. Today’s readers do not want a polished product upfront, but a visceral and unedited, in-the-moment account of what happens on the spot. They expect immediacy, but not of preened and prepped, totally accurate data, on the spot. Readers have been subscribing to news updates for a while now, receiving a constant flow of mobile and e-mail alerts, as news happens. This allows them to be constantly updated with the specific news they want. Location-based news has become priority with the real-time mentality. Topic-based journalism has found another venue in magazines and in celebrity journalists, but location-based news becomes the real-time news priority. According to location, breaking news can be distributed to mobile devices in the area, keeping readers informed about weather, traffic, advertising deals, and imminently dangerous situations or crime scenes to avoid.
People are committed to journalists, as opposed to news organizations. In this increasingly real-time world, the news-scape has become muddled. Anyone can publish anything online through Twitter, Facebook, or blogs. But journalists, as a sort of brand, become the consistent and reliable way to get news. People used to put their faith in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. It defined them, like a nice hat or dress; their newspaper was part of their identity. But now, as newspapers are de-emphasized by the ease of citizen publication, people turn to a journalist to be their brand, their reliable source. This reinforces the mentality of news coming to the reader. The reader does not comb through news sites to find it. This simplification has become necessary as the news-scape grows and becomes less formal. People look for traditional journalistic standards in their journalist of choice. This commitment allows people to follow and stay in constant update with what their favorite journalists are covering for a more global perspective of the news. These “celebrity journalists” fulfill the need for global news, since local news has become a mass-social effort.
Ultimately, in this real-time age, the reader would rather have immediate news, albeit biased or shoddily edited, from citizen journalists, than get delayed reports from professional journalists.
Citizen journalists cover most local news since accuracy took the back seat to immediacy. Citizen journalists are non-professional writers, bloggers, and photographers who document news or provide opinion on events. They do not have a journalism degree and they typically report on local news, providing advocacy journalism to their neighbors. Their accuracy as untrained journalists, and their tendancy towards reporting with bias, incites a healthy skepticism in the reader. But ultimately, in this real-time age, the reader would rather have immediate news, albeit biased or shoddily edited, from citizen journalists, than get delayed reports from professional journalists. Because readers are willing to accept citizen journalist news, which is a free service, professional journalists are typically hired to cover national, international, or niche news. Although journalistic standards still apply, international news has veered towards entertainment. In the real-time-expectant world, people are accustomed to imbuing news only directly connected to their interests and location. If the news is foreign or far-removed, news consumers demand entertainment as well as information. The hour-long drab Nightline broadcasts cannot hold the attention of news consumers with such a short attention span. Their attention span has conformed to the short twitter blurbs and articles modified for cell phones. If people can’t directly relate to the news they receive, they want to receive it in comedic form.
I have grown up as a member of a socially connected society. Although I am now in college, I have been interacting with social networks since the day I was born. For as long as I can remember Facebook, Twitter and other social networks have been the primary means of connection with the world, as well as the news and information I am interested in. I can access a wide variety of information instantaneously through my social networks, and use this as a means of staying connected with news throughout the day.
The news and media I consume is constantly catering to me through my social networks. According to my mobile location, my social networks adjust.
Every morning I wake up and immediately reach for my smartphone. It is my mobile connection to my e-mail and news updates. I can access this connection anywhere, anytime, which allows my social news networks to keep me up to date with everything that I want to know, as it is happening throughout the day. Community, state and global news, as well as features about cooking, fashion and photography are the topics I have subscribed to. All other unspecified coverage I receive is local. Breaking news is broadcast and updated without my consent, which feels invasive, but these updates are rare and only used for situations that might be threatening to me– extreme weather, traffic jams, nearby crime. I am able to disable this device, but find it more assuring than intrusive.
The news and media I consume is constantly catering to me through my social networks. According to my mobile location, my social networks adjust. My “friends” on Facebook are a consistent factor in my social networking system preferences, but location is assessed so that nearby stores will reach me through advertising. I like shoe shopping and my social network knows that. When I go out of town, advertisements for that town’s shoe store will be the ones I see. This way I can stay up to date with breaking news updates, information about traffic or safety threats in the area.
The Internet has begun to utilize social media optimization in an underlying way, not overtly. This allows me to receive news that is socially relevant to me. The more my friends and those I follow on social networks ‘like’ or view specific news or media, the more that information becomes included in my own news updates. I read news briefs and emails for a half hour before even starting my day. This is my daily ‘briefing’ of all things Social Media Optimization has deemed relevant to me, as well as the news social media optimization has found to be extremely ‘liked’ by those in my networks. SMO is not an application running on the Internet. It is a process by which information gets noticed because of how and why people “like” it. It serves you based on your connections to people. I like what my friends like, generally.
Some aspects of news have become “real-time.” Social media has encouraged an entirely new style of journalism where news updates are continuously posted as new facts and information surface. In some cases, this takes the place of posting polished and completed news stories. Tangible forms of newspapers are long gone. They became obsolete when news started to focus on more real-time issues; people began to want their news as it was happening, not the next day. Magazines have become the only tangible outlet still in vogue. More in-depth reporting and broader stories are reported and analyzed in the magazines, slow-form journalism’s new venue.
Social media has encouraged an entirely new style of journalism where news updates are continuously posted as new facts and information surface. In some cases, this takes the place of posting polished and completed news stories.
The constant updating, real-time nature of most journalism has made the social media landscape apt for culturing celebrity journalists. As people publish an array of their own information and are barraged with information from every other social media subscriber, news becomes muddled and overwhelming. This is where celebrity journalists come in. Following particular journalists who I trust to give me the news I want to hear about, allows me access to more specialized news.
I have chosen to narrow my scope on news by subscribing to one particular journalist, Kate Matthews. Most people subscribe to just one because they all tell the same global/broad-scale news stories, just with a different spin. The information you get from each celebrity journalist is similar, but the style and angle of their reporting varies. I have become loyal to Kate, more than I am loyal to anyone who employs her. If she were to be hired by another network, I would follow her. When I want news outside of my local realm, I watch Kate’s five-minute daily briefs, a quick, nightly, compilation of her twitter notes and stories throughout the day. This makes it easy for me to catch up on global news, if I miss it in real-time. For entertainment news, my friends and I get together to watch Kate’s weekly 30-minute segment during primetime.
Kate has been on the rise to stardom since college, when she interned for the Oregonian and then The New York Times. She is now in demand and publishers/broadcasters compete to hire her or license her content that she produces with a crew provided by her publisher/licenser. She has had and grown with a loyal group of followers. Like most celebrity journalists, she has a niche market for her hour segments. She caters mostly to women and often addresses environmental issues more thoroughly than most journalists. Kate writes more in-depth stories for monthly magazines. Her monthly stories are usually in-depth pieces that she collaborates on with other journalists. The obligations of a celebrity journalist leave little time for long-form specialization.