While we old-timers weren’t looking, news media and social media got hitched. Is it a marriage made in heaven or the beginning of the end of conventional journalism?
It started innocently enough. Anchors Tweeted. Reporters put up Facebook pages. Newscasts bid us good night with their social media addresses so we could get in touch. “Engaging the audience,” they called it.
Journalists came to realize they could use social media to find new sources and develop new stories, instead of just promoting their latest work and getting viewer feedback. Reporters and researchers crowdsourced during breaking news or to help flesh out their enterprise projects.
The best of the best leveraged social media tools to develop reliable sources for news around the globe. Investigative reporters like Vice News’ Simon Ostrovsky even found a way via social media to expose a blatant Russian lie in Ukraine. Tale a look at Selfie Soldiers when you get the chance.
And now comes the next wave. After seeing their content mined, pillaged, aggregated and exploited by others, the Reddits, Twitters, Facebooks and Snapchats of the world have figured it out: Why not do the mining, exploiting and aggregating ourselves?
And suddenly these sites are in the news business.
Nathaniel Mott of GIGAOM has an excellent piece on how this came about and what it means.
As with any new wrinkle in the news business, some will do things well and others will stink up the joint. To helm its Moments news project, Twitter hired Marcus Mabry, a bona fide shoe leather journalist with decades of print and digital expertise at The New York Times and Newsweek. When you click on a curated Moments story you typically receive a variety of versions from established news organizations – BBC, Reuters, AFP, CNN, FOX, ABC News, etc. – as well as from individual correspondents whom Mr. Mabry presumably knows and trusts. Overall it’s an intelligent job.
On one big, highly visual breaking story – the New Year’s Eve skyscraper fire in Dubai – Moments beat pretty much everyone with the first video of the burning building, not from reporters but primarily from tourists.
Powerful stuff, but also a potential trap door.
Yes, it’s unlikely that hundreds of people uploading the same images are deliberately trying to mislead us. But it’s also a fact that non-journalists frequently like to prank the media during major events, and it’s very easy. We also need to remember that in this hyper-Photoshopped digital age we can no longer say, “Pictures don’t lie.” They can and do. They also curse. NBCNews.com began its fire coverage with a few lines from AP (which had no images yet) plus a hastily-grabbed Twitter video. The videographer – excuse me, the guy on the balcony with a smartphone – blurted out the “f—” word and the “sh–” word in the space of 20 seconds. The editors at NBCNews.com (are there editors at NBCNews.com??) either didn’t know or didn’t care.
Which brings us to Snapchat and the San Bernardino shootings.
For its first foray into journalism, the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t repository for sharing and showing off collected hundreds, perhaps thousands of uploaded photos from the shooting scene and created a news package out of them. Again, the vast majority came from amateurs, admittedly beating legitimate reporters to the punch, but little depth, explanation or detail was provided beyond the snapshots themselves. That pesky job was left to the actual newspeople when they finally got there.
How will the other efforts fare? It’s going to depend on who’s in charge. Social networks have absolutely demonstrated their ability to get there first and publish the most. In the hands of responsible newspeople there’s no limit to the potential of social networks to tell new stories in compelling new ways.
Networks that give the job to the latest digital pheenom who got bored curating HeyGotcha.com after six months, will get what they deserve.