THE BLOG
05/08/2013 02:49 pm ET | Updated Jul 08, 2013

How Social Media Is Supporting a Fundamental Shift in Journalism

Not too long ago, journalism was something reserved for a select few with the training and resources to break and proliferate compelling news stories - a system that many still consider to be the most accurate and reliable way to get their news. However, that basic idea, and crucial societal function, is experiencing a fundamental shift.

As daily Internet usage becomes increasingly ubiquitous, suddenly people have started going online, specifically to social media networks like Reddit or Facebook, to get their news and print media syndications have begun to die off as a result. Nearly 60% of people use Facbeook as a recurring news source while magazines like Newsweek struggle to move a substantial number of magazines. The abandonment of print media was referred to as one of the biggest shifts in journalism to ever take place and media outlets were forced to adapt to changing trends or face extinction. However, in light of recent events, it seems clear that people are not only changing their mind about where to get their news, but also who they let deliver it to them.

Is There A Shift In Journalism Occurring?

It is very possible that the near future many witness the extinction of print media corporations, in favor of digital media corporations was only the beginning of a much larger shift. Though many people do still read news online that has been produced by traditional outlets, many users are now expressing that they feel the traditional outlets are 'too slow' or that their reporting has 'too much of an agenda'. While this attitude towards traditional media has been around for a long time, the prevalence of mobile devices that can record pictures, video and have constant internet connections, combined with the growing popularity of social networking sites has actually made it possible for people to produce and share news themselves.

Aided by social media networking sites and smaller social media outlets, users are able to document the news as it happens in real time and reach a huge number of people. Furthermore, people reading the news posts of others are able to engage with the original poster by contributing their views on the topic while sharing it with others. Suddenly, online papers are no longer the favored place to get the news and people are instead (intentionally or unintentionally) turning to 'citizen journalists' for their news.

Social media outlets, both large and small, are thrilled about this and typically encourage the behavior by developing plugins and tools, like video sharing, that make it possible to turn anyone with a smartphone into the foremost authority on an unraveling situation. Many social media operations have even begun providing advice on how to create and share a video the entire world will see.

Unfortunately, this new style of journalism is not foolproof, nor has it proven to be extremely accurate, but that does not mean that it should not continue to be encouraged.

Tragic Events and Groundbreaking Coverage

This new style of 'citizen journalism' can be a double edged sword at times and one of the clearest recent examples of this occurred on the site Reddit, as the search for the Boston Bombing suspect was taking place. Because of unchecked facts, a manhunt for the wrong man - who eventually wound up being found dead from an apparent suicide - began. Though many argue that it was not Reddit's fault, the wrongfully accused had been missing for a few days prior to the bombing, it was still poor form on the part of users and is not something that should be blown off. It is an important, and extremely tragic, learning experience for an inevitable movement to a decentralized information sharing system. Additionally, the link and information sharing site was a valuable resource for those trying to figure out what was going on during the chaotic manhunt that took place. Reddit users also used the site to organize acts of kindness such as paying for pizza deliveries to police officers and finding stranded travelers places to stay.

One the other hand, as potential suspects emerged many users violated the site's policy against sharing the information of others such as links to personal Facebook pages. Responsibility of curtailing this behavior should have been stopped by the site moderators. As suspected bombing suspects emerged, many users shared the results of their sleuthing into the personal lives of potential suspects; this resulted in the harassment of individuals and their families. But, this has always been the case - after the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, the family of James Holmes was frequently harassed. The instant access to people's lives via social media means that, regardless of who breaks the story, people will be able to express their anger in inappropriate ways.

How Social Media Encourages Citizen Journalism

When users post news and videos to social media sites, they are not sharing their information and thoughts with a void, without being heard and engaged with. Instead, other users interact (both positively and negatively) to the information being shared, which provides citizen journalists with immediate gratification and feedback for their efforts.

Meanwhile, people consuming news through social media by watching videos are likewise given gratification in the form of interaction and participation when they are responding to a story, providing advice or even just reading comments. Both the immediacy of information and the interaction provided encourage citizen journalists and consumers of citizen journalism alike.

How Social Media Outlets Can Encourage Good Behavior

Though its moderation model has had and will continue to have its pitfalls, Reddit's user oriented moderation style is a great example of how social media outlets can encourage good behavior on the part of their users through a 'rewards and consequences' system. Fellow users can click on a poster's username to see their past comments and posts, which many users use to judge the validity of a user's current posts. Likewise, people can 'down vote' posts and comments which don't add to a given conversation and after a set number of down votes have been given, the site will hide the post or comment from the general comment thread.

Though there are issues and abuses of Reddit's model, it is still a great example of the ways in which social media users can self-moderate their communities. Good behavior is encouraged, while bad behavior is discouraged and can negatively impact a user's interactions with other on the site as a whole.