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Within the publishing industry, the rise of social media has been a tremendously disruptive force. Publishing platforms like Facebook and Twitter have forced the icons of the mainstream media – such as the New York Times and Washington Post – to re-think their business models as well as the very meaning of the word “news.”
The rise of the news feed
Just look at the current debate over “fake news” on the Internet. With the rise of social media (especially Facebook) as an efficient distribution mechanism for news, it’s no longer the case that mainstream media organizations have a monopoly on the news.
In short, people are no longer waiting for the next day to have a print newspaper delivered to their door – they are now getting their news in real-time via their social media news feeds. There’s a reason why the New York Times was one of the first media organizations to experiment with publishing news directly to Facebook – in the social media age, Facebook is the way people get their news. Why subscribe to a newspaper if you can get Facebook for free?
News vs. memes
Moreover, even what constitutes “news” has changed with the rise of social media. Memes, trends, and anything that is going viral is now news. Just check out the stories that now make it onto the websites of the New York Times and Washington Post – they are typically the stories that are trending nationally. You’re just as likely to see a story about Kim Kardashian rejoining social media among the “top stories” as you are a hard-hitting piece about business or politics.
In many ways, this marks an erosion of the traditional authority of these mainstream media publications. In the past, people turned to these media outlets to help them figure out which stories are important, and which are not. Today, that role is no longer necessary. People are voting with their tweets and Facebook likes.
The death of long-form journalism
The real star of traditional journalism – the long-form investigation piece that could potentially win a Pulitzer – is on the wane. People don’t have attention spans for that kind of content anymore, thanks to social media. Most people will read a single paragraph of an article, if that. Most times, people will just read the headline that pops up in their social media feeds. So why even bother with a full article and thousands of words of text?
What social media celebrates is not text, but photos and videos. That’s what goes viral, and that’s what people want to “read” on their mobile devices. As a result, traditional news publishers have had to react to this change, putting more of their resources into developing multimedia rather than long-form journalism. Often, a two-minute explainer video will accompany a “difficult” article. People don’t have time to figure out all the nuances of an article, but they will watch a two-minute video online.
These three macro trends – the rise of the news feed, the triumph of the meme, and the death of long-form journalism – have important implications for the way people consume news. And, more importantly, they have implications even for what people consider to be “news” in the first place. Mainstream media organizations have attempted to adapt, but for many, it’s a case of too little, too late. They simply can’t compete in the social media age.