Journalism in the Age of Social Media

Whether it be a lack of trust in mainstream media or the easy access that comes from getting your entertainment and news in one place, journalists and newsrooms are pivoting

Journalism in the Age of Social Media
Katie Metz // Adriana Lacy Consulting

Social media has changed many things in our daily lives — even our jobs. What was once a place to simply connect with friends and share blurry pictures is now a main source of news for many users. Whether it be a lack of trust in mainstream media or the easy access that comes from getting your entertainment and news in one place, journalists and newsrooms are pivoting. They are changing the way they get their news to the public, opting for a more social-media based approin order to target a new type of audience.

A surprising statistic

This might come as a shock, but not all journalists are on board with this new way of sharing news. More than half of journalists interviewed by Pew Research in 2022 said they had a negative outlook on how social media impacted journalism, despite nearly 100% saying they used social media for their job. The main problem with the internet? Harassment and less than trustworthy sources. In fact, harassment has become so normal that it even has a name: dark participation, a term given to online engagement that is “negative, selfish, or even deeply sinister.”

But on the flip-side, journalists also believe social media helps them promote their stories, increases trust, find breaking news, and gather more information faster. The rise of independent journalism has also allowed journalists to break out of their shell and start fostering a better relationship with consumers.

How news has changed

How we perceive news, what catches our attention, and how news is presented has all been changed by social media. In order to understand how news agencies can adjust to these changes we need to know what they are.

How news profits

Selling ad space in your newspaper isn’t going to bring in the profit that it used to. We're in our tiered-subscription era, now. Instead, companies are trying to get clicks to their sites and prompt you to sign up for a subscription to unlock all the news stories they have.

More frequent breaking news

Breaking news isn’t a once-a-week (or even once-a-day) occurrence anymore, it's an ongoing series of events that are often also filmed live by hundreds or thousands of people experiencing it at once. So-called citizen reporting is on the rise and many viewers don’t see a difference between them and journalists, leading to rampant misinformation. Meanwhile, journalists might also feel the pressure to get information out more quickly on a viral story, which could increase their chance of inaccuracies.

Fake news is also on the rise. If consumers aren’t careful enough to check their sources, they can fall for a completely fabricated story. And the same goes for journalists, who rely on accurate information and could wind up spending important time dealing with the aforementioned “dark participation” from viewers who have seen and believe the fake news first.

However, there are also pros to online news. Journalists now have more time and freedom to tell the news in longer and more creative formats. Instead of fitting stories in between the weather and a commercial on television or chopping stories down for print, online news means journalists can take advantage of photos, music, videos, infographics, and more conversational style story-telling to keep consumers engaged.

Speaking of conversational...

Social media has also turned telling the news into a conversation about the news. Comment sections allow journalists to reply in real-time to their consumers, and consumers can have their questions answered or clarified. Journalists can also interact with multiple people close to the story without having to travel to meet them.

How newsrooms can adapt

We know this isn’t the most upbeat article on the news and social media, but not all hope is lost. Social media isn’t going anywhere and younger generations of consumers and journalists alike are fans of this new form of news.

Ultimately, the biggest thing that can help your journalists online is what goes on in your newsroom and who's in charge.

Both Pew Research and Sage Publications have posted studies asking journalists what they think the biggest problem is within the newsroom and “lack of diversity” is always top of the list. Journalists feel like their work is being unfairly targeted as biased because it doesn’t fit the viewpoint of the people in charge. This has led to them also feeling like they lack the backing and support of their agency when harassed online. Journalists are avoiding sharing information because they don’t know if that will be what gets them marked as biased and possibly fired. Newsrooms can easily fix how their news is perceived and help employees feel supported by making sure their leadership is diverse both in race and gender.

In line with that, newsrooms can provide their employees with more freedom and more support by giving them clear guidelines about and more freedom to share the news that matters to them. Online consumers want more transparency and like the idea of opening up of conversations between them and those telling the news. Allowing your journalists to share the news the way they want to share it gives it that added authenticity consumers love and can drive traction towards different stories.

Finally, avoid giving in to the algorithm all the time. We get it, you need to get clicks to make money. But clickbait titles and grossly inflated stories will just serve to discredit your newsroom. Instead, focus on reporting quickly and accurately, interact with viewer's questions, and take advantage of the different ways you can share info online.

Social media is a beast all in itself, but these tips should help you stay relevant as a news source.

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