Call me a luddite, a purist, or even a dinosaur, but with all the social media rage these days and their effects on traditional news outlets, it’s difficult to believe that 140-character platforms will institute the death of print, broadcast or even digital news.
Here are five reasons why:
1. Niche reporting is on the rise
It is undeniable that the media industry is changing rapidly and significantly. Today’s digital age has forced media outlets to change the way in which they gather and disseminate news. In a world of 24-hour news heightened by social media, both publishers and journalists are working their way through this new environment, compounded by declining advertising revenue and demand for more content.
As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development notes in its comprehensive report, The Evolution of News and the Internet, “The rise of the Internet and other technologies radically changes how news is produced and diffused. It enables the entry of new intermediaries that create and distribute news, including online news aggregators, online news publishers, mobile news actors, citizen journalism and many more. Information providers with very different trajectories (TV, newspapers and Internet companies) are now competing head-on in a global online news environment.” The news industry is affected by these dramatic changes globally.
Research has shown, however, that while the print news industry is struggling, what is on the rise is niche publishing. “Despite countless doom and gloom reports (usually involving newspaper circulation) print publishing is still flourishing with many niche outfits. The print industry’s obituary has been written too early,” says Rebecca Wesson Darwin, who publishes Garden & Gun in the U.S. In Canada, the magazine Jobpostings grew 30 per cent, mostly in print. Carleton University journalism professor Chris Waddell says he’s not surprised. “He said there’s a long tradition of success in niche publishing. And he expects to continue as traditional mainstream publishers struggle,” Quentin Casey wrote in a Financial Post article in 2013.
2. Even social media users tweet about what the traditional news outlets are reporting
Social media platforms are just that—platforms. They are not the news. Yes, news breaks on Twitter or from a post on Facebook, but the majority of the time, social media are used to market and promote things that are found in traditional media outlets. Tweets usually consist of links back to print and broadcast news outlets.
3. People want more news, not less
Related to reason number two, even if news breaks on Twitter or Facebook, social media users still want to read comprehensive news, rather than the 140-character snippets they see in their Twitter feed.
In fact, “In contrast to the idea that one generation tends to rely on print, another on television and still another the web, the majority of Americans across generations now combine a mix of sources and technologies to get their news each week, according to the survey by the Media Insight Project, an initiative of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.”
Although an American study, the statistics are telling. “The data also challenge another popular idea about the digital age, the notion that with limitless choices people follow only a few subjects in which they are interested and only from sources with which they agree — the idea of the so-called ‘filter bubble.’”
The survey notes:
There are relatively few differences by generation, party, or socioeconomic status in the level of interest with which people report following different topics.
These are some of the findings of the nationally representative telephone survey of 1,492 adults conducted from Jan. 9 through Feb. 16, 2014.
The data from the survey, which was designed to probe what adults distinguish most in their news consumption in the digital age, offer a portrait of Americans becoming increasingly comfortable using technology in ways that take advantage of the strengths of each medium and each device.
There are five devices or technologies that majorities of Americans use to get news in a given week. The average American adult uses four different devices or technologies for news.
4. Without formal media, there would be chaos
This is a slight exaggeration, but could be true. The idea of the “citizen journalist” is on the rise with increasing technology and instantaneous social media feeds, but the role of a trained journalist working for a traditional media outlet is one that cannot be understated. Not only are there democratic implications for the need for professional journalists, but there are also legitimate logistical considerations to be taken into account.
For example, journalists and media outlets work under the long-held belief that what they report is the truth. If “news” is coming from everywhere, from every Joe or Jane Citizen Journalist, how do you filter out credible sources and stories? Media only survive because of their credibility and adherence to certain principles and therefore are trusted actors in a democratic society. (Full disclosure: I’m a professional, working journalist!)
5. Video didn’t kill the radio star
Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 13th century, and print products, especially news media, have had a long run in terms of being the main source of news for people across the globe. When radio was invented in the late 19th century and became popular in the early 20th century, it could stand to reason that the public would no longer read papers. They still did. When video broadcast news started in the 1950s and the 6 p.m. news became a nightly staple in many homes, people thought that would kill both radio and print. Both are still going strong, in addition to video, and in addition to online products, and now social media.
The online world will not take over traditional news products, but rather complement them, as can be seen in the New York Times’ case:
In March 2011, after years of watching print ad sales fall, The New York Times began charging readers for access to stories on its website. But this wasn’t like the paywalls of old. Under the new system, the Times would give readers 20 free stories before the paywall kicked in. What’s more, stories accessed through social media were still available to those who had exceeded their limits.
The plan was greeted with no small amount of skepticism, and in some cases outright mockery. But it worked. A year in, more than 450,000 readers had subscribed to the Times digital edition. In March 2012, the paper cut back the number of free articles to 10. Readership continued to climb. By the end of the fiscal 2012, the company had 640,000 paid digital subscribers to The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. That year, thanks largely to all that new digital money, the company brought in more revenue from circulation than from advertising for the first time.
There you have it. Thoughts?