Social Media and the News

The recent tragedy in Connecticut reignited a question that has been in the minds of many people in recent years. That is the idea of where do we get our news. What is the role of social media? What is the fate of newspapers? These are vital and difficult questions. They go to the heart of how we connect with the world around us.

I know of at least one social media expert who turned off her social media (and 24 hour news) shortly after the tragedy occurred. I imagine the horror of the event was a factor. But also she is a professional specializing in social media, and didn’t want to listen to the uninformed and knee jerk reactions. To the posts based on wrong and misleading facts. To the insensitive remarks. She decided to wait until the newspapers had digested the facts that were available, and had written some thoughtful analysis. Papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Globe.

We all know that the internet is full of junk. And we are hopefully getting better at sorting out the junk from the good stuff. But it can be difficult. And to find the good stuff often involves wading through a lot of garbage. Just read the comments on a major news story in an online newspaper. Some of the comments are insightful. Occasionally there are some gems there. But there are a lot of them that are simply knee jerk semi-thought-out reactions that are not worth the time of day. It’s like searching for a pearl in a sea of mud.

We have some discretion in what we read when using social media. We can follow the posts of people we know are experts in an area, or at least think through what they are saying. But not always. When we focus on a hash tag in Twitter that contains the comments of almost anyone, and we don’t know who, it’s a totally different story.

Contrast that with the professionalism of journalism. Established newspapers tend to employ such professionals. Of course, we may not agree with them when they voice their opinions, but nevertheless, they do operate under a tradition and code of behaviour that stresses such principles as fact checking and careful analysis.  While arguably the quality of journalism has declined in recent years, nevertheless these principles still exists, and imperfect as they might be, they are a whole lot better than many of the posts on social media, which often have no principles.

Those who have been predicting the death of newspapers have missed the point. It’s true many have folded, but generally it has been those who didn’t or couldn’t break away from their reliance on print media. It’s print media that is on the way out, not necessarily newspapers themselves. It’s newspapers that tend to have the most professional writers who at least try to report the facts in a responsible manner.

The fact is, we need professional journalists, and while their media may be changing, their role in news reporting remains as essential as ever, perhaps even more so.