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Something very remarkable happened with Tara Reade and her sexual harassment allegations against presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Instead of going to a big-time mainstream media outlet like FOX or CNN, she went to Megyn Kelly, who published the interview on her Instagram, YouTube and Twitter accounts. This says a lot about the current state of media, and the changing dynamics of how news is made, distributed and consumed. Long story short: social media is the news now, and the big cable TV outlets and legacy print newspapers are no longer the place people go for breaking news and opinions. There are a number of reasons for this, so let’s break this down.
Social media influencers vs. talking head pundits
Until the social media era, the mainstream media had a monopoly on the news. As a result, talking head pundits were the true influencers in society. But powerful platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have given a voice to everyone, and top social media influencers now get more page views and more engagement than their counterparts in the mainstream media.
In other words, in terms of reach and scale, you get more “bang for your buck” if you try to reach people via social. That surely played a role in the decision by Tara Reade to bypass the legacy media. Megyn Kelly literally has millions of followers on social media (2.4 million alone on Twitter), as well as a built-in audience of loyal fans who connect with her directly. She’s even had a movie (“Bombshell”) made about her, so she is a true social media powerhouse.
The trust factor
Another big factor is the “trust factor.” People trust friends and followers on social media more than they trust the experts. Even before President Donald Trump began referring to the mainstream media as “fake news,” big legacy media outlets were suffering from a credibility problem. They no longer had the budgets to hire teams of editors, writers and fact-checkers, and they certainly didn’t have the budgets to conduct extensive journalistic investigations or operate expensive overseas news bureaus. Add in the fact that many news organizations began to inject ideology into their news reports in order to attract viewers, and you can see why many people no longer trust mainstream media. People like Walter Cronkite no longer exist – instead, you just have a lot of “talking heads” that parrot the talking points of either the Left or the Right.
Against this backdrop, Megyn Kelly comes across as a much more credible, trustworthy source, especially given her own personal background of sexual harassment. She promised to ask the tough questions, and to give Tara Reade plenty of time to tell her own story in her own words. If Tara Reade had instead gone to a place like CNN or MSNBC, they probably would have ignored her, because she was going against the party narrative (“Joe Biden good, Donald Trump bad”) at those networks. And, if she had gone to FOX, she would have seen her words chopped and diced into nice propaganda sound bites and then weaponized. With Megyn Kelly, at least, she had a chance for a fair and honest interview.
And, finally, the whole Tara Reade story highlights the changing news cycle, and how even a “bombshell event” on most cable TV networks only has a half-life of a few hours, before the race is on to find the next big bombshell. In contrast, social media has the potential to go deep on any issue, and to keep that issue on the front burner, even while mainstream media outlets are already on to the next topic du jour. At one time, news cycles lasted a week or even a month. Now, they last less than 24 hours.
That’s not to say that social media is not fickle and meme-friendly. It is. But social media benefits from the fact that hard, time-consuming investigative work can be outsourced to the crowd. Right now, there is probably a follower or fan of Megyn Kelly, digging through Joe Biden’s personal archives, or filing a FOIA request, or doing something that will move the case forward. As soon as they find something, you can be assured that they will let Megyn Kelly know, and she will then publish it on her social media accounts.
In short, social media is the news now. Social media influencers are winning, and legacy mainstream media is losing. In any sphere of life – and especially in politics – if you want your story to become “headline news,” you go to Facebook or Twitter, not a media conglomerate. And if you want a “fair and balanced” story, you certainly look to social media. That says a lot about the current state of mainstream media and social media.