What is the future for traditional news outlets?

Print media is dead, long live the Internet!’ Though possibly a bit premature,  the statistics demonstrate that the printed newspaper is going the way of the VHS and cassette. As people increasingly consume their news via the internet, the amount of people reading printed papers has decreased from 54 per cent to 38 per cent in the last 10 years.

Though many have simply switched to the online outlet of their chosen providers, there is an increasing number who are opting to consume their content via social media.

With only one in four people trusting articles they see on social media, combined with the bubble-like effect that surrounds social media users, what is the future for news? Are we stuck in our own little bubbles of fake news or can they be popped?

The issues associated with news consumed via social media are multifaceted. Indeed, the problems are not exclusive to social media. News itself becoming increasingly distrusted, with the ‘fake news’ revolution emerging last year.

Yet, social media is ultimately the biggest culprit, disseminating 800,000 fake articles, be they by Macedonian teenagers’ intent on acquiring advertising revenue, those keen to disrupt the democratic processes, or 126 million people during the 2016 election.

The question of trustworthiness, therefore, is undoubtedly where ‘traditional’ news outlets supersede social media; 74 per cent of people trust their prestige, funding power and respectability of traditional organisations, compared to 25 per cent  of those who trust information they get from their newsfeed.

Nevertheless, with Facebook being the number one source of news for 44 per cent of Americans, many argue that Facebook has a duty of care to protect its community against undemocratic forces.

Indeed as Daniel Kriess, associate professor at UNC, argues, “[Facebook are] shirking their editorial role”, as they employ a group of regular users to judge the content providers to deem whether their news is trustworthy.

Not only is one person’s opinion of trustworthiness an inaccurate gauge of professionalism or whether their data is factual, Kriess points out that this is also problematic as “people’s ideologies shape what they believe to be true”.

Furthermore, this has been heralded by some, such as Emily Bell, founding director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, as a means to absolve themselves of responsibility under the pretext of impartiality, whilst gaining data on people’s preferences which they can sell to advertisers.        

Though social media and the news it puts out are undoubtedly questionable at times, social media’s role in news and media can still have a positive influence.

Social media creates an environment where news can be disseminated by anyone, giving a voice to the voiceless, as has been the case with the groundbreaking #MeToo movement.

Furthermore, as shown by the failed coup in Erdogan’s Turkey, social media not only allows for the dispersion of uncensored news to a wide range of people, thereby illustrating a strong case for maintaining net neutrality, it also does so quickly. The news of the attempted coup broke on Twitter sooner than on the traditional news sources.

Similarly, social media allows us to create our own news, and only view the content that we want to.

Though this has raised accusations that we are creating a toxic echo chamber culture where everything we see simply backs up our established world view, it is crucial to note that similar accusations can be levied at traditional news outlets.

In a society where many of the sources of traditional media are owned by Rupert Murdoch, this in itself creates its own bubble culture – Murdoch’s views are implicitly disseminated throughout the UK.

Therefore, though it is clear that Mill’s ‘marketplace of ideas’, does not apply to social media as the quality content does not automatically rise to the top. Indeed much of what is consumed is fake, or at least believed to be.

Nevertheless, it is clear social media is the future of news, being a fast, accessible, near-universal means of communication. It is up to us to think critically about the news that we see whilst remaining supportive of quality journalism.

Image: Casey Linenberg

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