Should professionals rely on social media?

A definitive point for modern politics was during the 2010 elections when social media dramatically changed voting trends. As discussed by Nic Newman in “Mainstream media and the role of the internet,” these were the first elections to receive unprecedented participation online.

Following the shocking stats that 90% of 18-24 year olds do not read a newspaper, political campaigns took to TV, radio and facebook in an attempt to reach younger audiences, and it worked. In particular, an increase in activity could be seen among this age group whose activity increased by 7% between 2005 and 2010.

And why wouldn’t it? At least 1 in 4 of us Brits spend more time online than we do sleeping according to a poll created by Sky Broadband. The survey revealed that 51 per cent of us are suffering from ‘e-anxiety’ if we are unable to check our emails or Facebook page for any extended period of time.

Head of Digital engagement at The Guardian, Meg Pickard, suggests that online enrichment of different views is where social media shines. She said “Where we have seen social media come alive in this campaign is where it has been able to add extra perspective and community or social discovery and fun in the case of posters and playfulness.”

Participation in influential elections and enriching an online community is enviably so important, but what are the downsides to reliance on social media?

Twitter contains information from official and unofficial sources where messages arrive in the order that they are received. Perfect for keeping up-to-date with what people are doing all around the world, but not so perfect in terms of filtering the fact from fiction.

Alfred Herminda in “Twittering the news” suggests that as a result of this, journalists should be open to gate keeping the twitter feed. He describes journalists as a “node in a complex environment between technology and society, between news and analysis between annotation and selection, between orientation and investigation.”

If social media is going to be used by influential professionals, should we expect journalists to filter and gate keep what comes up in our news feed? And if they did, would that take away from the freedom we have as individuals to express ourselves online?

I think the wealth of information available to us should remain exactly that. If we want to learn the facts it should be up to us to decipher what is worth spending our precious 9 hours of internet time giving hits to.

We wouldn’t sacrifice our precious sleep over it if this was the case..

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The social media effect

The convergence from print to online, advances in technology and citizen journalists have all impacted mainstream journalism. But how much has social media in particular made a difference? Based on my own naivety and closed mind to journalism before the internet, I rarely considered the effects of twitter, facebook and other social networking sites on hard journalism.

As suggested by Nic Newman in his social media study (2009), there are three main ways that social media have changed journalism:

  1. Telling better stories: there is always someone who knows more than you do, news organisations are crowd sourcing comments, pictures, videos insights and ideas.
  2. Making better relationships: Engaged users tend to be more loyal and spend more time, making them more valuable to advertisers or for promoting and selling other company services.
  3. Getting new users in: With audiences spending more and more time with social networks, these have become the obvious place to look for the ‘hard to reach’ or reconnect with former loyalists.

All of which paint a promising future for mainstream journalism. The Evening Standard website is home to many regulars in the comment sections, ASHLEY BOGLE-FRIMPONG being one of many who frequently comments on the site. I would however argue that regulars would have an adverse effect on anyone new to commenting – as if to protect their online territory. I would also add that although broadened debates are positive on a surface level, they can cause legal problems for the paper, require strict regulation and anonymous comments can encourage readers to be abusive.

Selection of regular and anonymous comments on a story about knife crime

Newspapers have room for these diverse voices, opinions and arguments. But what about the BBC? If impartiality is their core value, can they ever be compatible with social media? Former BBC chief news correspondent, Kate Adie, famously described blogs to be ‘amateurish, filled with errors and not credible,’ ‘egotistical nonsense’ and that ‘journalists shouldn’t have time to blog, there are too many stories waiting to be told.’

In some respects I understand her anger with bloggers, stereotypically faking it until they make it. But in an industry so saturated in competition, those who want to make it don’t have a choice but to get themselves out there. The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about after all.

In spite of Adie’s views, an overwhelming majority of the BBC and its audiences encouraged User Generated Content (UGC). Over 70 per cent believed it improved quality and authenticity and 61 per cent felt it was good for the public to be involved.

The media savvy Guardian newspaper agreed:

“For the last 10 years or so we lived with this notion that we knew everything and handed out the pearls of wisdom to the people lucky enough to receive them. If you can invert that and actually say that the expertise lives outside the newspaper, on some many subjects they know more than we do. The moment you can get that thought in your head, then you realise that there is great treasure in these commentaries.” Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian.

Do you think social media is an important development for mainstream journalism? Newman explains that high profile changes are being made to standards, guidelines and training, so could this mean a change to the way the BBC is run? Let me know your views in the comment section below.