While I have been aware of all the confusion about “traditional” and “new” media, I have followed with interest some journalism discussions about “social media” and “new media” being used interchangeably by today’s generation. I am not surprised that the use of the word “media” suggests to some that social media is related to news media, but in the case of social media, it refers to the delivery platform, or medium. New media is perceived as the transition—and re-invention — of journalism (or at least journalism-like) practices for the Internet, and social media as social networks for communication and sharing. I do not doubt the lines of understanding may get blurred, but I do not get the sense that media consumers think there are camera crews and reporters from social networks out there gathering news, conducting interviews, soliciting comments and verifying sources.
It definitely does not help, though, when news outlets think they can re-invent themselves as social networks. No wonder that in one case of a French media company, journalists were picking up the proverbial pitchforks in protest.
I admit, I do not have a Facebook account (apparently, some people think that is suspicious; what is the world coming to?), I do not follow anyone with my Twitter account (I do not even have an app for that), and I do not Instagram my meals. Still, a lot of times news reach me through the cacophony of the Internet by the way of a social outlet, because social reposts propagate so rapidly (such an accurate description calling it “viral”), it is impossible to avoid stumbling on one.
What I see as an even bigger problem these days is that audiences do not care much about journalistic values, and they do not see journalism as a service for keeping constituents in a democracy informed. People actually think that recycled press releases, public statements and celebrity appearances are actual news. We encounter intellectual-sounding but totally meaningless jabs at “the mainstream media”, referred to it as “MSM” (because someone heard somewhere that sounds cool and informed) without ever getting an explanation of who allegedly does or does not belong to this massive “MSM” cabal. We hear people enthuse about how they get their news from the latest and the greatest Web phenomenon, but it is clear they fall short in understanding the difference between news reporting and aggregation.
Of course, I am not letting journalists off the hook,, either. I understand job security concerns, I understand that a news outlet as a business has to survive, and I understand the race to report something first. I also know that news outlets do not operate in a vacuum where their editors, producers, managers, stakeholders and owners do not have to worry about playing politics and diplomacy with influential entities.
With all that said: no excuses. “Reporting” that a Web site posted something and quoting some reactions to it from other Web sites is a cheap way to meet a column quota. “Reporting” on something going viral is basically saying that many other parties are reporting. Editorializing headlines in “news” reports, calling something “controversial” or “polarizing” (Is there a Ministry of Controversy issuing these declarations?), asking headline questions knowing the answer is “no” just to lure in attention-deficient audiences, sponsored content, native advertising… It all does not seem to be getting better.
Public officials will get elected, appointed, re-elected, re-appointed, sometimes one party is in power, other times the other one is. The world, leaders, the economy, politics, trends, and even the business, form and practices of journalism change. The principles and ethics of journalism must remain constant in keeping the pubic informed and keeping a watch on the powers in charge. A journalist only has to betray the principles of the trade once to forever lose the trust and confidence of the public.