Social Media: The Cutting Edge

Since I began attending Indiana University, I have found that my sources for news have changed drastically in some ways. The names may generally remain the same, but the platforms have changed greatly. Instead of sitting down to watch WGN-TV, I will see what they have posted to Facebook recently. Instead of navigating the New York Times’ website, I will scan my Twitter feed for their updates. This technological advance offers great opportunities to news organizations that will definitely lead to some improvements in terms of accessibility.  Despite this improvement in accessibility, there will still be issues with accuracy.

Since social media became a platform that legacy media had access to, it has been given mixed reviews. Some organizations were quick to make use of it while others, like the New York Times, fought adamantly against the use of social media. Now, we are hard pressed to find a news organization that is successful and not making use of social media. A report by Indiana University’s Professors Lars Willnat and David Weaver published in 2013 is the most recent of a series of surveys that have been collected since 1971. According to the Washington Post, “40 percent of journalists said social media networks are “very important” to their work and over a third said they spend between 30 and 60 minutes each day on social networking sites.” (Peterson). This new view of social media has affected how journalists present the news. According to the study, 53.8 percent of journalists make use of a “mircoblog” such as Twitter. These numbers indicate that social media has thoroughly permeated the newsroom.

Now that social media has shifted from the journalism of the future to the journalism of today, we can begin to analyze some of its benefits and risks. When considering what social media has done for journalism, we can see that there has been an uptick in accessibility and availability of news to the public. Journalists are using social media said in the study that they are reaping the benefits. According to the study, 80.3 percent of journalists said they could use social media to promote themselves and their work. About 69 percent said they were more engaged with their audience and 62 percent said they were able to report faster. This speed and accessibility shows that the social media savvy journalist is reaching more people with more information in less time. While this sounds like a solid improvement, it does come with some risks.

While social media makes news move faster, it doesn’t make it more accurate. Willnat and Weaver’s study found that 75.8 percent of journalists are using social media to check for breaking news and 73.1 percent are using it to see what other organizations are posting. While this can be good for staying relevant, it also allows for misinformation to spread like wildfire. Think for example if one organization were to break a story with false or unconfirmed information. If other organizations checking on social media saw it and tried to share it, soon, that misinformation would be spread all over the Internet. In the race to break the story, truth can be forgotten. While having social media provides for a lot of access, it also allows for sloppy work to take over in a matter of minutes. This specific evolution of journalism provides both improvements and setbacks.

Social media is just the beginning of the most recent evolution of journalism, and it has already provided a host of benefits. From speed to permeability, this evolution of journalism has allowed for great improvements. At the same time, though, it is allowing for a kind of laziness that has not been represented in journalism for some time. People can’t expect both speed and accuracy from social media journalism, but as improvements are continually made, this problem will be resurfacing in the future.

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