The first in a multi-part series about how journalists use and consume media.
The online world has been a saving grace for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. With economies slowing down and businesses moving online, there has been hope for folks who have the privilege to work or study in front of a screen — and social media has helped people connect with one another now more than ever.
Before the pandemic, much of the critique around social media often focused on the negative aspects of social media and how we must limit our online use in order to have better social interactions IRL. When everything moved online, we started to rely heavily on Zoom, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Slack, Reddit, Discord, LinkedIn … you name it, to stay updated with one another professionally and personally.
Keeping up with all these platforms has been imperative and I, as a journalist and college student, couldn’t help but notice how different social media platforms are used to communicate different messages with different kinds of people, personally and professionally. The way one communicates and who they communicate with is different in every medium.
But where do we draw the line between professional and personal content? How do we separate our styles of engagement and consumption? How do we express our personal beliefs and keep it separate from our professional platforms? Do we need to do that?
There are different schools of thought as to how we can manage and seize the power to control the media we consume and make the best use of it, if you are a media person or are an average user of social media.
Over the next few weeks in a series of articles, I will be breaking down the habitat of social media: algorithms, news cycles and activism trends.
New news platforms
Social media — initially created for connecting with close friends and family — has evolved to be the most convenient, effective and cheap way to advertise to and educate individuals. It is a great tool to stay updated with friends and family but also a free medium to stay updated with the news. In the last few years, social media has provided news organizations and journalists to reach their audiences with the latest scoops and breaking news in an instant. For Generation Z social media has slowly been turning into our primary news outlet.
In an Instagram poll I conducted, involving around 50 participants with an average age of 21, results showed that Twitter and Instagram were the leading platforms for their news consumption. A newspaper subscription, TV news and podcasts ranked in third, fourth and fifth place respectively. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, about one in five U.S. adults say they get their political news primarily through social media.
I finally joined Twitter in 2016 and recently started using it regularly because it was encouraged by my journalism professors. For journalists, social media has enabled reporters and news agencies to promote their work and compete with one another with the latest scoops and commentary but this also comes at some cost.
With the advent of Twitter, “the 24-hour news cycle has been trimmed to just a couple of hours or minutes,” Bury said.
“Journalists are under incredible pressure to not only do their stories for their publication or broadcasting station or network, but they are also under enormous pressure to report on social media,” said Chris Bury, a Peabody and Emmy award-winning reporter and a journalism instructor at DePaul. “My main concern is that it doesn’t give reporters enough time to do their jobs, and the result sometimes is that the reports that they do are not as thorough and full as they might be, because they’ve had to spend much of their day worrying about Twitter or Instagram.”
Before Twitter, longer news cycles enabled thoroughly investigated work. With the advent of Twitter, “the 24-hour news cycle has been trimmed to just a couple of hours or minutes,” Bury said.
DePaul alumna Halle Wagner joined Twitter when it was starting to expand in 2009 when she was 11 years old. Wagner has seen the way Twitter has evolved and she explains that Twitter was initially for staying updated with celebrities, YouTubers and music bands. “Twitter wasn’t the news platform that it is today. It used to just be people tweeting about their day. Now there are communities where people have full conversations, discussions and critiques openly about a topic,” Wagner said.
Because Twitter acts like a news discussion platform, it is very easy for users to get the latest of the latest news with ongoing coverage and updates. But because news travels so fast on Twitter, the common critique of Twitter news is that vital information is lost. According to the same study based on surveys by the Pew Research Center, Americans who mainly get their news on social media are less engaged and less knowledgeable.
Twitter is currently testing out a new feature which will ask users to read links before retweeting them with an aim to increase informed discussions and limit the spread of misinformation. “People are missing vital information which is crucial to the story. We saw a lot of that in the 2016 election where people would just read the headlines and go with it. People got the wrong idea instead of fully understanding what’s going on,” said Wagner.
To fully rely on social media apps for news can be easy but limiting at the same time. It is more important now than ever to keep up with the news with good reporting and analytical depth and there are many resources out there.
If you don’t have a news subscription, I recommend following a minimum of three news social media accounts: one for local news, one for national news and one for world news. Better yet, follow local journalists (Block Club Chicago or the TriiBE), directly to get the best ground coverage. Listen to news podcasts (BBC’s Global News Podcast and The Daily are some I recommend). Sign up for newsletters that summarize the news very easily.
Tips from an old school news junkie
If you’re a journalist and you’re finding it hard to keep up with all the news online, I asked journalism professor and faculty advisor for Good Day DePaul Rick Brown — who has no online presence whatsoever — on how he keeps up with the news.
“I read the New York Times cover to cover, and then I move on to the Washington Post,” he said. “Then I will go through a whole series of websites like NBC, ABC, CNN and that’s giving me more stories that are more recent.” Brown then heads over to local news like Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and the DePaul news media. He repeats the process all day long every 3 hours, for any updates.
News on social media travels really fast and I often get a little overwhelmed with the amount of updates my mind processes everytime I pick up my phone to scroll through. Posts from friends and family on one app mixed in with posts about the president or police shooting on another and every so often I wonder what it would be like to just have one platform that gives you all the updates together. Imagine everyone using just one app to give their followers their updates? We wouldn’t have to worry about who does or doesn’t have a platform to stay in contact.
But there are a plethora of issues that can come about if this monopoly of social media ever happened. In the next article in this series, I will break down how one can organize their social media feeds and accounts for the best personal user experience in today’s newsy age.
Header image by Phoebe Nerem