In an age where Buzzfeed's listicles are read more widely than the front page of the New York Times, it is clear that the rise of technology and social media is drastically changing the face of journalism today. The growing impact of social media on the newsroom is evident -- reporters get story ideas from social media, journalists amplify stories via Twitter, and a story is judged based on how many likes or tweets it captures -- sometimes even more so than the value of the news value itself. This has given way to a new crop of citizen journalists who are fueling the 24/7 news-cycle and blurring the lines between social media and traditional journalism.
According to a survey conducted by the Ogilvy National Media Influence team, which canvassed nearly 100 journalists at both national and regional news outlets, tensions between mainstream news coverage and social media continue to heighten. The survey also revealed tensions in the relationship between mainstream and social media when it comes to news reporting. Notably, 88 percent of respondents believe that the "race for news" either "significantly" or "somewhat" impacts story integrity. Furthermore, with over half of respondents saying that "shrinking newsrooms and resources" were the biggest obstacle to reporting the news today, questions about the quality and accuracy of news disseminated freely via social media are likely to continue.
The 24/7 news cycle has not only increased pressures for media outlets to be first to publish, but this race for coverage is drastically impacting the integrity of reporting. When Newsweek returned to print form March 2014, the new publishers wanted to make a splash. The issue herald Newsweek's return in featured a cover story unveiling Bitcoin's founder. Within hours of hitting newsstands, the web was afire with posts blasting the alleged founder, Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, and questioning Newsweek on the integrity of the story. Online stories that followed opined feverishly on Newsweek's allegations. It was a paradoxical achievement: the more traction the story got, the more visibility Newsweek garnered... and the more it's credibility came into question.
Social media has ushered in a new system of defining success of a story. In today's news cycle, stories can be shared, re-tweeted, commented, and picked-up by other media outlets. In the survey conducted by Ogilvy Media Influence Team, we found that the majority of survey respondents said that amplification in social media and through word-of-mouth is as valid a definition of a story's "success" today as it being picked up by other media outlets. Many reporters also revealed that sharing articles and engaging with readers through social media is now considered a key metric for success by which they are measured -- in performance reviews, salary negotiations and employment contracts. In some instances, journalists are even getting incentivized monetarily on the "social success" of their stories (shares, retweets, comments).
Yet despite the increasing challenges faced by mainstream journalists today, it's clear that reporting is in their blood. Only eight percent of respondents said they would consider an alternative career path, such as public relations or marketing; more than half (56 percent) say they would opt to stay in journalism, and if they had to change jobs, would look for a position with another media outlet. While journalists clearly want to stay within the industry, they are increasingly turning to 'data reporting' and online news sites to do it.
Most recently, we have seen the rise of data journalism, with several new websites having launched earlier this year, such as FiveThirtyEight, Vox, The Upshot and Wonkblog. The data journalism revolution, which merges data, and statistics with editorial may be the future of journalism, and can create unique opportunities for both journalists and brands. For instance, the New York Times most read story of 2013 was not an article, and was not even authored by a columnist. The piece was a news interactive story map, "How Y'all, Youse, and You Guys Talk", about dialect. The piece was engaging, sharable and perfect for mobile devices; and an intern created it. That intern, Josh Katz, was one of the first reporters hired to the New York Times new data journalism site, The Upshot.
There is no doubt about it; the blending of social and mainstream media is paving the way for a new paradigm of news generation. Online stories can be shared easily, retweeted, and re-purposed. Online stories often have an eternal shelf life that holds no geographical boundaries. The more that traditional media and brands collectively embrace this new normal, the more these challenges will become opportunities for us all. The future of journalism is in all our hands, and together, we can tell stories that will have the global reach and impact to shape a more promising future.
Jennifer Risi is the Managing Director and Head of Media Relations for North America at Ogilvy Public Relations.
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