How Social Media is Changing the Definition of News

This year Twingly was at BlogWorld Expo (#bwe09) in fabulous Las Vegas – the yearly expo for new media enthusiasts and proffessionals. I participated in a panel session with Mike Lee, Robert Scoble and Mark Evans about how social media is changing the definition of News. The discussion circulated around an array of topics like business models, credibility, the role of the editor and syndication. Here follows a brief summary of what was said on scene.

Competition and narrow margins lead to a dumbing-down of news in general. Mainstream media moves towards the lowest common denominator in reporting, reducing it to entertainment in order to find a message that is interesting to as many people as possible.

Media is very far from the ideals of the 60’s when news were all about doing the right thing and educating the readers. Especially in the US a whole day of news reporting can be spent almost on a single story that is mere entertainment and have very little actual impact on people’s lives.

One of the big changes going on behind the scenes is that online news are getting a large part of distribution through the social web. Google is still the largest driver to news sites but Facebook and Twitter has become often the second largest source of traffic for news from global sites all the way down to hyper-locals. According to Robert there are also news sites in the US that see as much as a third of their pageviews coming from Iphone users, which is an incredible amount.

One of the needs journalism serves is to verify sources of breaking news. The same sanity checks are not always performed when news are published through social media. The realtime web has driven the news cycle down to five seconds and a rumour can very quickly spread to millions of people without verification.

There are some trends that counter this problem, as people become more and more aware of the issue they will be more reluctant to spread rumors without verification. More and more people are also walking around with cellphones capable of shooting high quality video and photos, increasing the probability that eyewitnesses can publish proof of what actually happened.

Curation is rapidly becoming a buzz-word with services like Twingly Channels and Twitter Lists allowing people to create news flows and share with others.

In order to adapt to the new media landscape, traditional media needs to commit to change. There is a very high inertia from within the organizations and their cost structures. They are also in great need of finding a sustainable business model.

A telling fact of the importance of social media is that for the first time BlogWorld Expo has major sponsorships from brands like Ford and Bud Light. Companies are increasingly aware of the impact of the social web.

In conclusion, the social media has indeed changed the distribution of news, diminshed the news cycle into seconds and made it both easier and more difficult to verify news stories and sources. Among our media partners, we see many good example on how to interact with the social media and the real time web. Since the readers are hooked on the real time web the media houses are following. Exactly how and in what way is to early to say, but there is no doubt that the effect on the definition of news is permanent.

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