By Oscar Michel, Masters in Journalism, DCU
Today, journalists face challenges caused by new media technologies. Journalism is experiencing considerable changes linked to social, cultural, economical, and technological transformations.
Social media brings new characteristics like interactive dialogue and social interactions. Journalists can now have real conversations with their audience. Online debates have also been put into place so that everyone can express themselves (when comments are enabled of course). Traditional one-way communication is turning into two-way conversations. Social media has given a real meaning to what freedom of speech is. In history, expressing yourself has never been so easy.
Twitter is a very professional social media that you know we use a lot, as it helps journalists find quotes and contact people they might never see in person. It is also a good way to get breaking stories as soon as they happen. Journalists often use twitter personally to show the audience that they are humans. It enhances the likability of some journalists and plays a key role in how they interact with their audience. The convergence between the personal and the professional life, on Twitter for example, is a significant sign of social media’s adoption. On social media, news organisations will know their readers much more than with press releases, because a comment section is now available (for better or worse!)
Some news organisations try to resist social media, some embrace it completely. Buzz Feed or the LADbible, for example, are new news organisations built only for social media. They understood how social platforms spread news stories and what was the best format.
A new problem social media has raised, is that there is too much news. The audience cannot always figure out the veracity of the news they see on social media. Which news organisation should they trust ? People will continue trusting the big news agencies they have always trusted, but what about the next generation? They will have never trusted any news organisations and could be lost among the fake news. The 2014 Irish Social Journalism Survey published the statistic that 64% of Irish journalists said that information on social media can’t be trusted.
The way to consume news in the world has changed. Before the question was; who is a journalist? Now the question is; who is a publisher?
News companies are abandoning their production capacities and their advertising departments by delegating all their content to third party platforms. This is the only way for some news companies to survive by reaching to a younger audience. Two main issues then matter. What is the new relationship that agencies share with their readers? And who really controls the news?
News companies can now use live videos. The viewers can be with the journalist somewhere in the world instantly. The use of Facebook live is changing the relationship between the journalist and the viewer because there is no editing. If a journalist uses Facebook live for their audience, while covering Syria for example, while reporting on bombing, shocking images could traumatise people. Facebook should have an editing role and not only be a platform. News publishers have lost control over distribution. Social media and platforms took over the role of publishers and now the news is filtered through algorithms. And these algorithms are unpredictable.
The news agencies have to ask themselves what is more important, to reach a wider audience or to control their own pathways? How the algorithm sort out the news on Facebook or twitter’s news feed is a mystery, or rather not publically shared. We can’t really say which stories are being promoted the hardest, which are suppressed and why.
Who is in charge of these algorithms? There are important risks in having a non-elected person in charge of what the audience reads and thinks.
“We are handing the controls of important parts of our public and private lives to a very small number of people, who are unelected and unaccountable. We need regulation to make sure all citizens gain equal access to the networks of opportunity and services they need. We also need to know that all public speech and expression will be treated transparently, even if they cannot be treated equally. This is a basic requirement for a functioning democracy” said Emily Bell Digital Journalist at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.