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The way that people get their news has changed forever, and you can largely thank social media for that. It’s not just that the “how” of people get their news has changed, it’s also the type of news – the “what” – that has changed.
Just 20 years ago, it was still perfectly reasonable to read a print newspaper in the morning, tune in to news radio on the commute to the office, watch the evening news when you get home from the office, and maybe tune in to the late night news before going to bed. On weekends, you might pick up a news magazine recapping all the news of the past week. And, if you were feeling particularly ambitious, you might pick up the Sunday New York Times and spend a good chunk of a weekend afternoon reading the type of content that would prepare you for the week ahead.
The end of a news paradigm
Well, those days are long over. Print is dead because the 24/7 nature of the Internet means that news cycles are now measured in hours (if not minutes) instead of days and weeks. Anything you read in print form is already stale. And the rise of the mobile phone means that news and commentary is available instantaneously, on demand, whenever you want. Alerts and updates ping us relentlessly throughout the day. Many people now start and end each day by checking their phone, not by turning on the TV.
The really revolutionary part about all of this, of course, is how news media companies like CNN and the New York Times are no longer the go-to destination for people who want news. Instead, most people are perfectly content to rely on whatever tidbits they pick up via social media to be their “news consumption” of the day.
Social media platforms and the news
In fact, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, two-thirds of the U.S. population now get their news via social media. And the trend is much stronger with younger millennials, who are even more reliant upon social media to deliver the news they need. The Pew numbers are especially eye opening because they suggest that social media has stopped being just a complementary way to get the news (i.e. something “extra” to give you an edge) – it is now often the sole way that people get their news. In short, people now rely on social media to get them the news they need.
That might work well with “big stories” in the news – like news about the latest hurricane headed toward the U.S. mainland – but how well does it work for anything other than the biggest stories and trends? Unless you happen to have hundreds of journalist friends on Facebook, or thousands of media-savvy peers on Twitter, you’re probably getting just a very tiny sliver of what’s happening in the world.
We live in a YouTube world now
Consider that 18% of the people in the Pew Research survey said that they get their news solely via YouTube. What exactly does that mean? People are watching viral clips of late night comedians riffing on the daily news?
From this perspective, it’s easy to see why media outlets like CNN have adopted the “breaking news” and “viral news” mentality to retain viewers. They are trying to replicate the rhythm and feel of social media.
Or, even worse, media outlets like CNN are forced to adopt a strange hybrid of entertainment and news for the masses, who are really dying for a chance to get back to watching viral YouTube clips. From this perspective, sadly, “Saturday Night Live” is now more relevant than CNN in terms of people getting the news. People would rather watch a funny, two-minute comedy skit featuring a well-known celebrity than sit around watching some boring old guy in a suit for two hours.
Survival plans for legacy media
So how can companies like CNN survive in the current era? As long as they are part of major media entertainment conglomerates like Time Warner, they’re probably safe for now. Even if they’re struggling, it’s easy to toss around impressive-sounding Wall Street terms like “synergies” to explain why they should stick around. (Which is what leads to CNN originals like “The History of Comedy” – brilliantly middlebrow content with lots of celebrities designed to be shared on social media!)
Theoretically, the popularity of video on the Internet today means that the biggest TV news networks are also relatively protected from the raging social media storm around them. But that’s not really the case with print media. Already, most of them have become web-centric or web-only. But everyone these days is feeling additional pressure to create the kind of content that people are going to click on.
The big moment of truth will come, of course, when Facebook’s video platform becomes large enough that people are not just watching viral videos on Facebook the social network, they are also tuning in to the scripted TV shows on Facebook the TV network. That’s when the days of CNN may finally be numbered.