“The Internet had Changed it All: The Impact of how Social Media has Transformed News Consumption” by Rachel Barks
The author uses a variety of her own experiences as well as the experiences of those around her to show and support how new consumption has changed due to social media and the internet. By showing a walk-through of how modern, young adults find and read their news, as well as research articles and scholarly texts, it well help readers better understand the current state of journalism in our world today and how the industry has had to change over the years to stay relevant and ethical. By using that mix of personal experiences, research and scholarly information, the author sets the stage for her personal stance of believing that the internet and social media can help the journalism industry more than hurt it.
As a journalism student and someone with an interest in news and media, I have grown up watching how the news and journalism industry has changed over time. When I decided to get my college degree in this industry, my interest in it grew, as I began hearing comments such as “isn’t journalism a dying industry?”, “how will you get a job?”, “the news is full of lies.”
At first it bothered me, and I took it to heart, worrying how I’d ever make it in a struggling industry. As I went through my classes though, I began to realize that the industry isn’t dying, it’s simply changing.
For this article, I first wanted to explore deeper how the industry is changing due to social media and how that has affected news organizations themselves and forced them to change to stay relevant.
After doing that, I want to offer a place for readers to see that the industry isn’t dying because of social media and the internet. In fact, this type of media could revive it but we must see how it’s affecting the industry for good, bad and what news consumers can do to be more involved.
The news industry will always be needed, but understanding how it looks different, can help us all to know where to go from here when looking for news to educate ourselves and going out on the search for ethical, quality journalism.
I remember growing up going to my Grandma’s house while my mom worked midnights and my dad had to wake up immensely early for work. Every Sunday evening, we would read the newspaper together. Mostly, I would look at the cartoons while she read everything that was happening around town and as I got older I would skim the headlines and try to understand what I was looking at.
I grew up seeing newspapers all the time at her house, which maybe sparked my fascination for them and led me to where I am today. As I continued to grow up though, things began to change. I started to see computers everywhere, and I even started using phones and computers more than reading physical newspapers; there was even a chunk in my life where I stopped reading them whatsoever, between deciding to major in journalism and starting to use technology all of the time.
Plus, I felt like I was still getting my news. I saw stuff on Twitter, good enough right? I began to realize very quickly, that I couldn’t trust those random tweets and went back to reading online publications.
When I decided on majoring in journalism, I began learning so much about online news and the importance of it through some classes I have taken here at Olivet. Today online news relies heavily on being snappy and quick, getting to the meat of the information as fast as possible to hold the attention span of everyone who is used to instantaneous, 24/7 information.
It also relies heavily on media such as photos, videos, audio, and infographics because that catches attention more than big blocks of text.
This began sparking a question in me: how did news organizations (especially newspapers) have to change the deliverance of their stories to keep up? How do news organizations fight for viewer’s attention when there’s millions of hilarious cat videos and TikTok dances out there?
I began diving in to figure this out.
Last summer I had an internship at a local newspaper called The Herald-News. At this internship, I was able to write many articles myself, interview people of the community, and pitch my own stories.
The Herald-News is very print driven although they do have an online website. Their demographic is mostly older individuals, though, who buy the physical copy of the newspaper. Their focus is more on that then their social media presences.
Having this internship taught me a lot about journalism, but also how a lack of social media presence can really disrupt a newspaper and make things harder on them.
News outlets must actively set and chase the agenda on different social media platforms, making their presence known.
What does setting or chasing the agenda mean, though?
This means who controls the news, which is a traditional journalism theory. Journalists, from the past up until now, are the ones who find what information is news-worthy and should be discussed to the public. This is referred to as chasing the agenda. Once journalists decide what information they will deliver to the public, they are setting the agenda of what’s important. They control the news and what is spoken about to the public.
According to McCombs, who developed the Agenda-Setting Theory, he wrote in a 2000 literature review of agenda-setting studies, “The power of the news media to set a nation’s agenda, to focus public attention on a few key public issues, is an immense and well documented influence.”
Today, with the popularity of social media, this means that journalists don’t blindly jump at any hyped subject on their Facebook feed. This takes careful consideration.
This also introduces another traditional journalism theory. Journalists act as “gatekeepers” who control what does or does not get covered in mainstream media outlets, according to Associated Press. This is the Gatekeeping Theory which was founded by social psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1943.
Social media makes traditional gatekeeping difficult for journalists as everyone has 24/7 access to information at the tips of their fingers. The public now assists journalists in their gatekeeping, which is why a presence on social media is so vitally important to thriving in the industry, according to Associated Press.
There is need for gatekeeping journalists, especially due to the high consumption rates of clickbait, fake news and non-journalistic social media pages. This is because professional journalists need to assert control over news construction, as there needs to be a regulated system which audiences can access for educational and topical news, according to Groshek & Tandoc.
The year of big shifting began occurring in 2009/2010, when newspaper began realizing, especially with the economy falling, that getting online is what would help save them.
A book called Making News at The New York Times by Nikki Usher is an excellent chronicle of this and how journalists and news organizations had to accept the internet as a means to help them thrive.
Usher walks us through how digital journalism means incorporating interactive graphics, interactive photos, videos, and information graphics. With the internet quickly sweeping the globe and growing technology creating things such as smartphones and tablets, attention spans are down, and people are less likely to comb through a hefty article to get the latest news. To keep users engaged, it now needs interesting graphics, punchier writing, and something to grab the shorter, more fleeting attention spans.
She explores how readers and audiences must interact with the content today for it to be successful. Storytelling through blocks of text is merely not enough; there has to be more, such as a video or slideshow of photos that connect to the user and speaks to them as well as break up the text.
Journalists must reckon with how to adjust to the demands of a 24/7 news cycle, an environment of interactive engagement, and a world where one-to-many has been upended. The result has been a restructuring of news routines, albeit in a contested way, which has led to the emergence of new news values: immediacy, interactivity, and participation (5).
The internet changed society, and many things in the world had to jump on board with it in order to survive.
As of August 2017, 43% of Americans report often getting news online, according to a study done by Pew Research Center.
As of spring 2017, 45% of U.S. adults often get news on a mobile device, up from 36% in 2016 and 21% in 2013 (Bialik, Matsa, 2017).
In 2017, two-thirds of U.S. adults get news from social media (Bialik, Matsa, 2017).
When browsing for my own news on a regular, everyday morning, my search often begins on Facebook and Twitter. Of course, I naturally follow some of my favorite news outlets, but I even see links to news shared by friends or people I follow.
These links were found by the same Pew Research Center article to be the biggest way that people see their news on social media. The link gets shared around and they follow it to the news organization’s direct website.
My routine is pretty similar to other’s consuming news, and maybe even similar to you, the one reading this. Finding news from a news organization website or app is equally as popular as seeing the links spread around on social media. These two ways drastically win out above finding news through search engines, or through friends and family (Bialik, Matsa, 2017).
When surveying different majors and students around campus, many were often thrown off guard at the question. They answered with a, “well how else would I find my news?” tone when answering that they use social media to find that information.
I surveyed one Multimedia Communications student, two art students, and one psychology student.
The Multimedia Communication student finds her news through a Snapchat news story shared daily. She reported that she liked this format for the fun, video delivery.
One art student explained that she stays away from reading the news as it is usually stresses her out and exhausts her emotionally and mentally. She also doesn’t have social media anymore, so she doesn’t see the news links that are shared.
The second art students reported that she uses social media to find her news. She sees what her Facebook friends share and will usually look into it if it interests her.
The psychology student was similar, explaining that he uses social media to see the news his friends are sharing. He grew up in a household where his father always read the newspaper, so he does buy the newspaper weekly on Sundays.
Even from my small survey and sampling, 3/5 of these college students get their news from some sort of social media platform.
I can remember clear as day when Donald Trump first became a meme for using the phrase “fake news.”
According to BBC News journalist Mike Wendling, “President-elect Trump took up the phrase the following month, in January 2017, a little over a week before taking office. In response to a question, he said “you’re fake news” to CNN reporter Jim Acosta. Around the same time he started repeating the phrase on Twitter.”
But saying that Trump was the one who first used the phrase would be well…fake news.
On December 8th, 2016, Hillary Clinton mentioned “the epidemic of malicious fake news during a speech. Trump took up the phrase in January 2017, a week before election, then began using it continuously (Wendling, 2018).
It is estimated that about 25% of Americans visited a fake news website in a six-week period around the time of the 2016 US election, according to researchers at Princeton, Dartmouth and University of Exeter. ‘Fake news’ is now used as a term to describe multiple things: a sponsored post, an ad, a visual meme, a Twitter bot, a rumor, etc. (Wendling, 2018).
“People just use it against any information they don’t like,” says Clare Wardle of First Draft News, a truth-seeking non-profit based at Harvard University.
This has led to many people around the globe not trusting the news they are consuming. When they don’t know what to trust, they often turn from it and give up completely as it seems too hard to try and differentiate between what is real and what is falsehood.
So, if false news is such a big problem, how can we tell what is false and what is true?
This is an important course of action that we news consumers must make in order to keep news organizations ethical and taking responsibility for presenting truthful information. We news consumers and news producers must work together to fight the demon of falsehoods.
News consumers must take the time and effort to spot misinformation.
There are four tips to help decipher this misinformation according to Fake News: How to Spot Misinformation by NPR.
Exercise skepticism. Take information with a bit of doubt as well as compare information from a number of different outlets to get a variety. Read more than just the headline. Know how to navigate the misinformation landscape. Keep an eye on how social media platforms are engaging with misinformation, and how that is constantly changing. Different social media platforms have evolving influence on misinformation as well: how is Facebook managing fake news, etc.
The last two tips are,
Be attentive when reading about emotional topics. Misinformation and fake news are most effective on hot/controversial topics. Ask yourself, is this emotionally triggering to me? Is it a breaking news story where all facts probably aren’t assembled? If so be very skeptical. Investigate what you’re reading. Ask questions of what you’re reading: is the content paid for by a company? Is there good evidence?
The news plays a vital role in society as it did years and years ago. Humans will always have this need and hunger to know what is going on around them. Media and technology have changed what this looks like, has changed how news is reported on, and has changed how news is viewed by the public but has not killed the need for journalists.
Most of those in society have ran across a newspaper. Perhaps they enjoy reading them, maybe they have only seen their grandparents with them spread out over morning coffee. Our news has drastically changed since newspapers were the largest form of journalism and now we all live in a 24/7 news cycle where all of us can hit ‘send’ on a tweet and contribute. Humanity has gone from trusting nothing but news sources for their information before Nixon’s presidency, to growing more and more distrustful of news sources today during Trump’s presidency, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.
But even though this is because of the news changing, due to the birth of the internet and social media, it holds an immense hope.
When looking at the stats, journalism is not dying. It is still the vital information that society needs in order to keep going, it simply must change and use media to its advantage, creating a place for ethical, interesting information, like The New York Times, to catch the attention of those browsing the internet for cat memes.
Bergland, Christopher. “How Has News Changed Over the Past 30 Years?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 14 May 2019, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201905/how-has-newschanged-over-the-past-30-years.
Bialik, Kristen, and Katerina Eva Matsa. “Key Trends in Social and Digital News Media.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 27 Aug. 2020, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/10/04/key-trends-insocial-and-digital-news-media/.
“How the News Changes the Way We Think and Behave.” BBC Future, BBC, www.bbc.com/future/article/20200512-how-the-news-changes-the-way-we-think-and-behave.
Personal Survey of Olivet Students: Hailie Rasmussen, Kylie Festen, Shelly Bogard
“Setting or chasing the agenda.” Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute.
“The Future of Print: Newspapers Struggle to Survive in the Age of Technology.” Harvard Political
Review, 6 Dec. 2014, harvardpolitics.com/future-print-newspapers-struggle-survive-age-technology/.
Tutheridge, Gabrielle. “What Is the Role of Gatekeeping Journalist’s in Today’s Media Environment?” Medium, Medium, 24 May 2017, medium.com/@gabrielletutheridge/what-is-the-role-of-gatekeepingjournalists-in-today-s-media-environment-2034a30ba850.
Usher, Nikki. Making News at The New York Times. University of Michigan Press, 2014. Ebook.
Wendling, Mike. “The (Almost) Complete History of ‘Fake News’.” BBC News, BBC, 22 Jan. 2018, www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-42724320.
Biographical Note: Rachel Barks is a senior Multimedia Communications/Journalism student at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois. An avid lover of storytelling, she has a passion for writing and reporting on the truth and hopes to work for a local newspaper after graduating in May 2021. On Olivet’s campus, she is the Executive Assistant for the Olivet Gazette newspaper and staff writer for the Aurora Yearbook. Through studying multimedia alongside journalism, she has a passion for and has researched the vital relationship between social media and journalism for multiple projects including creating websites, writing articles, and crafting a senior speech on the subject.