Social media as a news source?

laptopI remember my grandparents sitting at the breakfast table, reading the morning newspaper over buttered toast and orange juice. My grandma would take the Entertainment section and the crossword puzzle, while my grandfather read through Business and Sports.

Today they just scroll through their iPad for stories.

I remember eating dinner with the 6 o’clock news playing in the background as a child, learning about car accidents and murders while eating chicken fingers with my family. The 6 p.m. news program was how my parents could learn about current events, so watching the 6 o’clock news became a daily family ritual.

Today, I stay informed by watching Trending Topics on Facebook and Twitter, and tune in for live events (like Trump’s inauguration) on Facebook Live.

I also remember road trips where my father would flick to the a.m. radio station to hear traffic updates, making us all hush to hear the report over the sound of cars whizzing by.

Now my dad just checks off his “Avoid Traffic” filter on the GPS and away we go!

I honestly do not remember the last time I watched television news (thanks to Netflix, I don’t even have satellite or cable anymore), picked up a newspaper or magazine, or heard a.m. radio news (my boyfriend streams Spotify playlists through Bluetooth). However, I don’t feel uninformed. On the contrary, I feel more informed than ever before.

This is because news is now convenient. I don’t have to race through the local newspaper before work in the morning or enjoy a family dinner with the TV on discussing gruesome facts, I don’t need to purchase a magazine at the drugstore to read the latest celebrity gossip or tune into the radio before a road trip to discover which roads to avoid. News and information is more convenient now! I can discover news stories throughout the day on my feed and “save” them to explore further at a time that suits my schedule.

Jessica Thom explores this topic in her doctoral dissertation Believing the News: Exploring How Young Canadians Make Decisions About Their News Consumption. In an interview with Ryerson Journalism, Jessica explained that she studied participants ranging from 18 to 29 years of age to find out how they consume news. Through her study, Jessica discovered that while young Canadians would discover news through social media, they would not stop their research at just clickbait headlines.

“They’re really getting kind of the bite-sized pieces of news from their social media”

– Jessica Thom.

“They’re really getting kind of the bite-sized pieces of news from their social media, and then they either click on that article or they search that title and they find out more information through search engines,” Jessica told Ryerson Journalism. She added that social media was viewed as a way to “funnel important or interesting news” and then the participant would do further research about that topic on the sites of trusted news sources.

This study is very reflective of how I digest the news. I often spot a Trending Topic on Twitter, read through tweets about this topic to discover why it is popular, and then – if I am still curious – I continue my research elsewhere.

I do, however, see the cons in this news consumption method:

  • Our news is funneled through social media, which has an algorithm to highlight the topics we may be interested in the most.
  • We are only following up on news items from our feed that we are curious about, as opposed to sticking through an entire news program.
  • If we do not do further research, we are at risk of believing fake news.

However, as a graduate of a journalism program, there are flaws with using mainstream media as your only news source as well. As opposed to all of your social media networks funneling your news, you are relying on one TV network program choosing which stories are worth watching– with the pressure of selling commercial ad space and competing with other networks. This is true with newspapers as well; you are reading selected news items researched and written by overworked reporters and edited by someone under the pressure of keeping newspaper subscriptions and ad prices up in a dying industry.

In my opinion, no source is perfect, so do your research. But as an avid social media user, I feel more informed than I did following traditional mainstream media. I am getting my news from a variety of sources and making my own judgements, instead of being fed the news from one medium.

Do you feel social media is a good place to discover news stories or do the headlines just help with watercooler talk at work?

— Social media posts —

Facebook: I remember eating dinner with the 6 o’clock news playing in the background as a child, learning about car accidents and murders while eating chicken fingers with my family. Today, I stay informed by watching Trending Topics on Facebook and Twitter, and tune in for live events (like Trump’s inauguration) on Facebook Live. How do you consume the news? Read my latest blog post, “Social media as news source?” here:

Twitter: Have you heard the #news? Young Canadians are discovering news items on #socialmedia, but is this a trusted source?

2 thoughts on “Social media as a news source?

  1. I love this post Leigh because it is a reminder of how much has changed in what seems like a short period of time. My mother in law still loves the newspaper and swears that she will always buy it as a preference to having something in hand having more value than clicking through online. However, her last visit, I noticed that she was spending more time with the ipad than with the newsprint.

    Cancelling the cable two years ago gave me a sweet reprieve from listening to the everyday news dread and I happlily enjoyed a period of my life that was relatively news free, other than water cooler news and the occasionally online peruse after shocking news events.

    The election of Trump changed that for me and now I subscribe to CNN alerts, read News and Guts Daily through facebook and have begun spreading information through social media that I feel comes from a reputable source.

    The ethics of jounalism has changed from the days of Dan Rathers entry into the field. There is questionable reporting, “alternative facts” and unscrupulous, misleading information and headlines. For every opinion, there is social media communities to support those beliefs and ideals.

    Given what is currently happening with the POTUS versus the press, we are at a crossroads of accountability when it comes to determining how we manage the facts and the manipulations of truth to support an agenda. It has become our responsibility as citizens to do diligent research and discover the facts as best we can. Further to that, is sharing our sources and information through social media with others so that they too can get the “real news” and not the “alternative facts”.

    I believe the power of social media has greater reach than our traditional news sources ever did but using the framework of quality, ethical journalism, should and needs to be an essential part of the plattform. For that reason, I believe that social media is a valuable news communication tool but it is up to us to research the source.

    Not sure if you saw the recent mixup in a Domincan newspaper that used an Alec Baldwin photo instead of Trump in an article about the POTUS but even in newsprint journalism, mistakes can be made. Hilarious mistakes, but mistakes none-the-less. 😀

    • Hi Miranda,

      Thank you for your comment, I appreciate your thoughtful and informative feedback 🙂 I completely agree that we are all responsible for researching our sources and deciding for ourselves which sources are credible. Interestingly, I just came across Facebook’s media release on The Facebook Journalism Project: Two of the things listed are: “Promoting news literacy” (to help users figure out which sources to trust) and “Continuing efforts to curb news hoaxes.” I think Trump has really changed the game for journalism and was a huge wake-up call to many about the importance of real journalism. I’m glad to see social media platforms, like Facebook, step up their game to help support news organizations and working journalists.

      And I had not seen the blunder by the Dominican newspaper– oops, how embarrassing!

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