Social media and the news

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Some thought-provoking points were raised at a lunch I recently hosted in a discussion about the role of social media and how it impacts on traditional news reporting.

Some thought-provoking points were raised at a lunch I recently hosted in a discussion about the role of social media and how it impacts on traditional news reporting.

Increasingly, people are getting their “immediate” news from sources such as Twitter – from people who are on the spot who tweet about a traffic accident, a riot, or even a fall of government. In this role, it has largely replaced the “breaking news” that I always associated with radio.

This was really brought home to me recently when I found out about an accident on the Sydney Harbour Bridge through Twitter and, rather than then visit a “news” website, I used the hashtag “#sydney” to find out more about it.

The question is, where does this leave more “traditional” news sources such as newspapers?  The point made by journalists at my lunch is that newspapers still tend to set the news agenda – tune in to talk-back radio and evening TV news bulletins, and a good number of the topics and issues they pick up on were in the newspapers that morning.

Nonetheless, print media is finding it increasingly difficult to remain relevant in a world where they have traditionally been the main source of information – such as sports results, financial figures or major events.  These days their readers have already known about events well before newspapers are published, thanks to social media.

The emerging value of newspapers is opinion, commentary and interpreting what is going on.

It’s still a developing issue that will no doubt be playing out for a few more years to come. But it seems to me that a logical outcome is that people will turn to newspapers and similar sources for the detail and the explanation of a story or an issue, rather than the breaking news. They will go to sources they have confidence in, which is still a flaw in the internet – which sources can you trust?

For instance, someone asked me the other day whether I knew where that they could find a full explanation of the issues in Greece – why it was in such trouble and what had happened to date.  They knew the facts about it, but not the detail of how it came about.

To me, this is still a mojor role that traditional media plays – and one that social media such as Twitter is unable to play.  Clearly, outlining complex and detailed information can’t be done in 140 characters!

Another interesting aspect of social media – particularly texting and tweeting – is how they create, or become part of, the news.

For example, the riots in the UK last year were, in some ways, created by social media.  Similarly, social media was a major component in initiating the demonstrations in the “Arab Spring” leading to the overthrow of governments.

Some traditional publications have already found a niche through interpretation and commentary rather than “news” approach, as well as through targeting a specific readership.  For instance, The Economist continues to enjoy a strong and loyal readership while maintaining the traditional weekly magazine format, without the use of ‘breaking news’. It can do this because of the reputation of its in-depth analysis and explanation of events around the world.

It seems to me that it is this kind of role that will ensure the value of traditional media in the future.