Defending social media is a bit like defending the sunrise. It’s going to happen no matter what and the only way to avoid it is to keep sleeping.
Nevertheless, Dorian Benkoil at MediaShift does a fine job of taking on the anti-social media whiners. As he puts it, ”to rail that social media destroy our social fabric is as silly as claiming that books destroy our memory.”
As I read Dorian’s piece I was reminded of how journalism is being transformed by social media. While there are many dangers and pitfalls, it’s important to remember the ways social media have improved journalism.
- The democratization of publishing. Now that anyone with an idea and Internet access can be a publisher, the “mainstream media” no longer have a monopoly on the flow of information. Stories that in the past would not see the light of day until they had received the blessing of the editor of a large newspaper or the producer of a network television program now go viral at the speed of light.
- Social media vastly expand journalists’ ability to gather news and research. With a few clicks, we can unearth sources and access information that 20 years ago would have taken a day to research.
- Social media vastly expand distribution opportunities. There are more than three-quarters of a billion Facebook users upwards of 300 million on Twitter. News organizations large and small are reaching vast new audiences through social media.
- Social media enable journalists and citizens to circumvent political and corporate control of information. Social media didn’t create the Arab Spring revolutions, but activists have used social media to communicate and coordinate. Three decades ago, the Solidarity movement in Poland communicated with underground news sheets. Now the Tweeters and Facebookers of Egypt, Syria and Yemen are able to communicate with each other–and journalists–instantly.
- Journalists and their news organizations can interact more freely and more deeply with their audiences. You don’t have to wait for a letter to the editor, or even for the phone to ring or email to arrive after a user has viewed a story. You can communicate in real time.
- Social media and developers are rapidly evolving new tools for journalists. Increasing numbers of journalists and news organizations are using Facebook to connect professionally with their audiences. News organizations using Twitter are evolving a new distribution model, essentially a 21st century version of the wire service, a platform for the credible reporting of breaking news.
- Social media are allowing us to create more coherent, relevant and trustworthy online communities. The rise of Facebook, Twitter and Google+, on which users use their real identities, promotes more meaningful exchanges among a community of trusted peers. The era of irresponsible and incoherent comments on online news reports by anonymous users is rapidly fading.
- Social media invite journalists to evolve new professional roles and responsibilities as amplifiers, verifiers and curators of content. As news organizations manage their place in the social media stream, new jobs are being developed–jobs that didn’t exist even a couple of years ago. In our perpetually economically challenged profession, this is good news indeed.