Social media: The next frontier for journalism
A new phenomenon means sweeping changes are in store for traditional journalism: Social media are beginning to outpace mainstream media in disseminating news. Reporters sent to the field find that news has broken over Twitter and Facebook long before they arrive on the scene; and when gathering eyewitness accounts, all they need to do is check for steady streams of tweets and wall posts. More than just a way to socialize, social networks are quickly turning into mighty forces in the world of journalism.
In an article for The Next Web, Deborah Mackay writes that “over the last few years social media has been the first source for a number of big international news stories.” The Mumbai attacks, the uprising in Egypt, and even the death of Osama Bin Laden were all news that spread like wildfire through social media before being reported by the mainstream media.
Social media have the advantage of speed and agility—a story can be tweeted or posted in mere seconds of an event’s occurring, then reposted and re-blogged ad infinitum just as quickly. Traditional reporting is cumbersome and sluggish in comparison.
The implications for journalism are staggering. With the decline and fall of print newspapers imminent, more and more of the news reporting process is going online. Can offline ever hope to catch up to online? I think not. At this point, online is accelerating at a rate far greater than offline; by this I mean that web word-of-mouth has greater reach—and, some would argue, appeal—than real-life word-of-mouth.
What I envision for the future of journalism is a citizen-driven wave of online reportage that will integrate with, but never fall behind, print and video reporting. People still prefer tangible texts (like paperbacks) over intangible ones (like websites), but lower costs and other benefits are leading to the increased use of e-readers and other mobile devices, which bring the best of both worlds together. News outlets are already joining in this trend, with subscriptions to many leading newspapers now available for tablet PCs and smartphones.
Private individuals are beginning to assume roles traditionally held by news organizations. With just a cellular phone, the average Joe can be reporter, writer, and cameraman all at the same time. A new era is dawning, one where journalist and news consumer are less than a stone’s throw away from each other (and can even be the same person), where a news story can travel all around the globe at breakneck speed, and where digital meets analogue meets Internet meets real life. Many changes are in store for the publishing and journalism industries; let’s see where this new wave takes us.