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Social media has fundamentally changed the landscape of news consumption. Gone are the days when people once turned to newspapers, radio and TV for news. Today, they are getting their news via social media. Here’s a quick recap of how social media has changed the way we consume news.
#1: Social media is the new gatekeeper
The days when people used to turn on their TV sets to watch their favorite news anchors review the “evening news” now seem like a very quaint period in American life. The same goes with people reading newspapers over a breakfast table, or listening to “news radio” on the commute to work each day. Let’s face it – social media is the new gatekeeper.
As study after study shows, people are getting their news from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Instead of “tuning in” to TV, they are just scanning their social newsfeeds for information. As a result, social media has a very powerful impact on what type of news we consume.
#2: Social media has replaced “serious news” with the trending, the viral and the buzzworthy
Remember when news seemed, well, “serious”? It was something that you discussed over the dinner table in very serious tones, using very grown-up vocabulary. There was a real respect for the news media and the function they fulfilled in society. But what about today? Most people simply view “the news” as a rich source of hilarious new Internet memes.
Nobody really reads full articles any more – all they do is scan the headlines and check out the photos or videos. If people in their social networks aren’t sharing, re-posting or commenting on a piece of news, then it’s all but invisible to them. Moreover, with the rise of sites like Buzzfeed (which now has more visitors than the New York Times), the emphasis is on the viral and buzzworthy. If people aren’t going to press the “like” button on a story, what’s the point of publishing it?
#3: The news cycle is now 24/7
At one point, all you had to do to be reasonably literate was to pick up one of those weekly news magazines that summarized all the top events of the past 7 days. News, when it happened, was relatively slow. It could happen on a Monday, and you were still OK if you only “caught up” on a Friday. But not anymore. If you’re not posting, tweeting or sharing at the moment that a story happens, you’ve probably missed it forever. News organizations have realized that, and are now positioning every tiny bit of news as “breaking news” (CNN is the worst), and are encouraging people to consume it the same way they consume social media posts about what you had for lunch that day.
So what’s the future of journalism?
That’s a good question to ask. Now that websites like Buzzfeed have supplanted traditional news media sites, and your social media newsfeed has replaced “Page A1” of the daily newspaper, it’s time to realize that there’s no more stuffing the genie back into the bottle. We’ve already reached a situation where newspapers and magazines are just recycling ideas and opinions that have already appeared on the Internet. And, by the way, does anyone actually pay for a print newspaper anymore? This dead tree industry is done, stick a fork in it.
The real news is that “News” (with a capital N to make it sound important) is no longer a commodity that can be bundled up and sold to people for a price. Maybe this is going to sound extremely post-modern, but maybe we’ve entered the “post-news” era. There is no longer reportable truth, just one version of “fake news” battling with another version of “fake news” for your attention. And, to a large degree, you can thank social media for that.