From Newspapers to No Paper: Social Media as a News Source

On the morning of October 6th, Twitter announced its newest update: Moments. Twitter Moments is a feature that allows users to view the most popular content on the app all in one place. Users can scroll through the information quickly or choose to follow the subject so that related tweets are added directly into their timeline.

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While Twitter’s latest feature is exciting, it’s only the most recent example of social media platforms transitioning into news sources. Facebook began this trend in 2014 when it launched Trending Topics to inform users of the most talked-about news stories. Snapchat jumped on the bandwagon less than a year later, introducing its narrative take on reporting the news with Discover.

One thing all of these social media platforms have in common is that they acquire their information from a very unusual source: average citizens. This concept completely breaks away from traditional news reporting in which a small group of individuals broadcast a specific viewpoint or chosen story to a wide audience. The use of social media to report the news is changing the game because it gives the people the power to decide which stories are important enough to talk about. The ability to showcase multiple viewpoints is crucial in an era when people are often brainwashed by the media. Young people are incredibly malleable and likely to blindly agree with whatever perspective is proposed by a news anchor. Social media platforms are now gaining information from a variety of sources with diverse opinions, which will allow users to form their own unique views on these important topics.

Since social media platforms are constantly updating their news stories, they act as a more dynamic source than traditional media channels. When a mistake is made in a newspaper, it can take time to correct. However, conversations on social media are always changing and adapting, which allows for the most up-to-date information. Some of these platforms are also dynamic in the way that they shift based on personal preference. Twitter Moments will eventually provide personalized content, tailored to the interests of each individual user. Again, this makes this news source more appealing because it allows users to focus on information they truly care about.

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The final important difference between social media and traditional news sources is engagement. In 2012, 43% of millennials used the internet as a news source while only 14% read the newspaper. Younger generations of Americans value participation and community, and these things cannot be provided by traditional, one-way news sources. Millennials are looking to actively involve themselves in finding and sharing news information, so they see value in the model provided by social media platforms. Engagement in social media news is increased even more due to its instantaneous nature and ability to travel everywhere via smartphones.

It is clear that social media platforms are giving traditional news sources a run for their money. A 2015 study illustrates that over 60% of users on both Twitter and Facebook get news from those platforms. This number will continue to grow as more millennials enter adulthood. As we have seen time and time again, online business is decreasing and sometimes eliminating the need for print. Ebooks have replaced paperbacks, email has triumphed over direct mail, and now social media is diminishing the need for printed news. The question has ceased to be if social media will take over and has become how will traditional media fight back?

I don’t believe there is a simple solution for traditional news sources to combat the rise of social media. The best method is a multi-channel approach that incorporates these platforms into their traditional business model. For example, the New York Times has a strong digital and social presence which allows them to stay relevant on new channels. Yet, the company maintains the appeal of their traditional newspaper by using these channels to encourage readers to subscribe to their paper. Traditional news companies can no longer run from social media; they must embrace the change and devise an integration strategy before they become obsolete.

Do you agree that the shift towards social media as a news source is a positive one? Comment below with your thoughts and suggestions for traditional media sources.

7 comments

  1. I am personally a huge fan of the recent trend towards social media being utilized as a platform for news for the same reason that VICE Media has built such a successful platform: authenticity. With social media platforms for news, quite literally everyone can become their own journalist and reporter, delivering insight on news and events that can happen on the other side of the world in a matter of minutes. The best part about this is that much of the time, these individuals answer to no system other than their own opinions and beliefs, and so they have the freedom to deliver pure news if they so choose, and if they don’t, we have literally millions of other options to get our news from. What VICE has been able to do very well, and now it seems Twitter will be doing something similar, is grouping all of this incredible amount of incoming information into one area that makes it easy to navigate through.

  2. Very interesting post! I do agree that social media replacing traditional news is a generally beneficial trend. Media channels (especially Fox News) have an underlying agenda that delivers a biased view of the news. I know from first-hand experience, as my mother would have Fox News turned on every night in the house. I was not able to understand the nonconservative side of issues until coming to college and talking to people with those views. The only issue with something like Moments on twitter becoming individually tailored is that one will only see the conservative side of the news if one is conservative and vice versa if one is liberal. I follow the New York Times on my twitter to make sure I understand both sides of issues before making a judgement and I would want moments to be unbiased by my personal preferences. Perhaps, they will have a setting to keep the newsfeed general.

  3. Great post! I also agree that there are certainly upsides to having a new source that is unbiased by channel operations and producers. That being said, at least the channels are held accountable (for the most part) by their audience members, and have to stay semi-truthful to maintain their reputation as a reputable news source. That being said, I’m not sure social media has a means of taking that same kind of responsibility. I have friends on Facebook (as I’m sure we all do), that post “news” all the time – and it’s generally completely and utterly false. I guess I’m seeing the downside of what @shapirobenjamin pointed out when he wrote, “The best part about this is that much of the time, these individuals answer to no system other than their own opinions and beliefs, and so they have the freedom to deliver pure news if they so choose, and if they don’t, we have literally millions of other options to get our news from.” I don’t trust the traditional media channels, but I do like the accountability that goes along with aligning themselves to a particular channel. At least in that situation, there’s a lot to lose.

  4. I don’t think social media has changed the “brainwashing” aspect of news; on the contrary, I think SM makes it far easier to only digest the biased content that the reader expects to agree with. For example, if you post a link to an article on Facebook that provides a view that is vastly different from that of your circle of friends, SM will make it easier for them to ridicule you for posting something that goes against the grain.

    Basically, I don’t think that most people, especially Millennials, even want to see news that they disagree with. Just look at all the “safe rooms” that are being set up across college campuses whenever a guest speaker is due to arrive because precious snowflakes might be offended by an opinion that they disagree with. As another example, let me ask you this: how many of our classmates do you think follow both CNN and Fox News in order to get both sides of the liberal/conservative story? How many also follow BBC or the Guardian in order to get a European perspective? I’m guessing not many.

    Social media is an even easier way for us to filter out unwanted content than simply not turning the TV to a particular channel. We can follow all sorts of politicians and bloggers and news outlets on Twitter and think that we are getting a diverse set of opinions when in reality, perhaps subconsciously, we end up selecting sources that all provide content that validates our pre-formed opinions. Besides, most of the “news” that shows up on my Facebook feed is links to traditional media outlets anyways.

  5. This is a great post, Ashley. I find that I primarily use social media, such as Twitter, as a news source, to read interesting articles and get up to minute updates on events. Twitter Moments is an interesting feature that I think has a lot of potential and will improve over time. It helps makes sense of a large volume of tweets by attempting to provide relevant, curated content. Some useful improvements in the future could include the ability to see only curated tweets on that topic. I look forward to more platforms like this and Apple News that provide content curation that is personalized based on your interests and browsing habits, which is not common on social media platforms today.

    I think one of the greatest strengths of social media, allowing anyone to have a say by reporting the news and sharing their story or opinion, can also be a glaring weakness. It can result in homogeneity, with many jumping on the bandwagon and supporting one opinion without being aware of the facts and how easily they can be influenced by others. I agree that it is important to be exposed to different perspectives, but I am not sure social media does a good job of that at this time. However, our friends and the people we choose to follow can help us discover new viewpoints and interests. I don’t think traditional news sources will go away any time soon but the companies that have been successful are those that have adapted to the rise of social media. I think some combination of established news institutions and reliable individuals will be the future of news reporting.

  6. Awesome post! I wrote on something similar last week and I think it’s fascinating how so many platforms and apps are tailoring their model toward delivering news efficiently to their users. It seems to be a trend with all social media platforms as well as within Apple with their new News native application in iOS 9. I love the fact that social media platforms have become the dominant source for news. It is simply a place to access all sources rather than having to go to different websites and perusing their websites for a couple articles that interest you. The reason why news is moving toward social media platforms is because they are able to tailor headlines to you based off of your activity and that is what people want the most – the news they are most interested in, in one spot. Any searching and scrolling to find a good article bores users. All in all, it’s very interesting to see who uses what application for their new because it really comes down to loyalty and easy of use. Most news platforms have relatively similar content, especially through social media when they are based on what’s trending.

  7. We’re moving into the next phase of SM on twitter. What used to be about just gathering the data, now involves the best way to filter and present that data. All of the SM platforms are wrestling with these issues and it will be interesting to see the ways they evolve in coming years.

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