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Will social media really kill journalism?

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Late last year Cision conducted a survey with 3,000 journalists worldwide about how their impressions of social media (and PR) have changed in recent years. The complete survey is worth a quick look–check it out here.

But, what I thought was particularly interesting about the survey was the surprisingly high number of journalists who thought social media would “kill journalism.”

Huh?

That’s right. According to the survey, 20% of journalists surveyed believe social media will lead to the death of journalism. What’s more, when asked about social’s impact on their work, 41% were ambivalent and only 39% were positive about it.

Cision Survey

Now, wait a minute…

Isn’t this the same industry that has completely embraced social media, as a tool to do its job, in the last few years?

Isn’t this the same industry that has essentially taken to Twitter to break news now?

Isn’t this the same industry that features Facebook comments and fans on its morning and evening broadcasts?

I’m confused. You use social to do your jobs, but you think social is going to kill your industry?

Something’s off here. So, I set out to ask the journalists themselves. At least, the journalists I know in our market up here in arctic Minneapolis/St. Paul (it’s not going to get above 0 until May this year, I’m fully convinced now).

I really just wanted to know three things from these journalists–all very respected reporters and editors with their respective outlets:

* Do you believe social media will lead to the death of journalism? Why or why not?

* Why are so few journalists supportive of social when clearly it’s a big part of their jobs now?

* Positive views of social and its impact on journalism have dropped from 54% in 2012 to 40% in 2013. Do you think that’s merely because the luster wore off social a bit? Or, are journalists just asked to do too much these days and social is just one more thing on their plates?

Here’s what the journalists I reached out to in Minneapolis/St. Paul had to say: 

Michael Rand, Minneapolis Star Tribune

So, first question: Do you believe social media will lead to the death of journalism? Why or why not?

Definitely not. Like any new way of gathering and disseminating information, it’s all about the learning curve – figuring out how to use it best, stop being afraid of it and ultimately embracing it. Just like the “Internet” hasn’t killed journalism, no new media or tool will.

Why are so few journalists supportive of social when clearly it’s a big part of their jobs now? 

Combination of fear and slow adaptability, I would think. It’s human nature to fear change, and before you start using something you might feel intimidated by it. Give it a year. That 39 percent number will climb back up.

Positive views of social media and its impact on journalism have dropped from 54% in 2012 to 40% in 2013. Do you think that’s merely because the luster has wore off social a bit? Or, are journalists just asked to do too much these days and social is just one more thing on their plate?

I think it’s a combination of things. The more time you spend on social media, the more wary you might become of it. There are nasty people who now have direct access to you. There are aggregators stealing your work or mocking it (or both), and they are likely to be active on social media. And yes, I think some people view it as just one more thing on their mounting plate.

 

Jen Westpfahl, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Do you believe social media will lead to the death of journalism? Why or why not?

No, I don’t. Did television kill radio? Did cable kill network TV? Have ebooks killed publishers? No. Each new medium or tool that the public adopts certainly changes the media landscape but it can’t kill journalism, which is carried out by people, not their tools.

Why are so few journalists supportive of social when clearly it’s a big part of their jobs now?

If I knew, my job would be much easier! I suspect there are as many reasons as there are people. Some don’t understand how it works, some think it’s time-consuming, some are afraid of getting scooped, some think they are better than “the crowd” and don’t need to consult or converse with them.

Positive views of social media and its impact on journalism have dropped from 54% in 2012 to 40% in 2013. Do you think that’s merely because the luster has wore off social a bit? Or, are journalists just asked to do too much these days and social is just one more thing on their plate?

I hope it’s just that it’s become more routine and less novel/special. I doubt that numbers would be high if we asked whether people thought the telephone had a positive impact on journalism.

 

Katie Humphrey, Minneapolis Star Tribune

So, first question: Do you believe social media will lead to the death of journalism? Why or why not?

Big questions. I’m pretty sure someone much smarter than me could write a book or two about them.

My take: No, I don’t think social media will lead do the death of journalism. Social media needs content, right? That’s what we’re all sharing. A lot of that is chatter or individual commentary or cat videos. Often, there’s a link to a story – serious or entertaining – written by a journalist. People still want information, preferably accurate information. Journalists can help sort the good stuff from the noise, vet claims and report stories that spark conversation.

Has social media changed some aspects of journalism? Absolutely. News breaks fast on platforms that didn’t exist a decade ago. Reporting can be trickier because there’s more info flying by at high speed, but it can also be more fun because you find sources and stories that you may not have otherwise. Social media can make journalists more accessible and their stories more inclusive.

Why are so few journalists supportive of social when clearly it’s a big part of their jobs now? 

Hmmm. That’s hard to answer because I don’t want to speak for other reporters.

From my experience I can say that some reporting beats are better suited to social media. It’s great for a tech beat because that’s a popular topic among social media users. But it wasn’t the most useful reporting tool for me when I covered suburban government a couple years ago. Admittedly, there were probably better ways I could’ve been using social media at the time, but it also felt like there wasn’t a ton of engagement around the topics I covered in a focused suburban area.

Overall, I’d guess it’s just a time crunch. Social media is one more thing to do each day – around the clock, really, if you’re super connected – and sometimes it doesn’t fit when a reporter is focused on something or trying to meet a deadline.

Positive views of social media and its impact on journalism have dropped from 54% in 2012 to 40% in 2013. Do you think that’s merely because the luster has wore off social a bit? Or, are journalists just asked to do too much these days and social is just one more thing on their plate?

That’s interesting. I would guess it’s a combination both, but that’s a tough one to answer. I can understand the fatigue of trying to keep up with each new social media platform. Sometimes it does feel like one more thing to do on an already busy day. As far social media losing its luster, maybe people have tried some of the tools and decided they just don’t work for them?

 

Amy Hockert, Bring Me The News

Do you believe social media will lead to the death of journalism? Why or why not?

You know what’s going to kill journalism? Journalists who let social media kill journalism! If more journalists would learn how to embrace the good in social media and harness its power, I think they’d realize they’re the ones in control.

Why are so few journalists supportive of social when clearly it’s a big part of their jobs now?

The only thing more frightening than the unknown is an unknown that is moving at break-neck speed. Most journalists, by trade, are quick on their feet. Their bosses/corporate structures are not. The journalists who have the ability (and courage) to be more agile, will win.

Also, I’d be curious to see an age break-down in these responses. How many of those who are ‘skeptical ‘of social media are over the age of 40? Remember, we live in a time of social media overlap. Some of us journalists remember what it was like to do our research without the internet. This newer crop of journalists, Gen Y and Z’ers, were born with a special swiping finger. I think age/generation makes a difference.

Positive views of social media and its impact on journalism have dropped from 54% in 2012 to 40% in 2013. Do you think that’s merely because the luster has wore off social a bit? Or, are journalists just asked to do too much these days and social is just one more thing on their plate?

Timely question. Just this past week we introduced a new work flow to our producers. Instead of simply posting a story to the .com and walking away, we’ve added a social media checklist. You could view that as ‘more on your plate’ .. or you could get on board with the incredible opportunity you have to reach a greater audience. I want our producers to take pride in their work — oh, and by the way, go ahead and spend a little time on your personal Facebook page, sharing the fruits of your labor.

 

Erica Hanna, Bring Me The News

So, first question: Do you believe social media will lead to the death of journalism? Why or why not?

I don’t think social media will lead to the death of journalism. It has already proven to be a wonderful asset to journalists using platforms correctly. It’s simply a way to allow readers/viewers/news consumers to be more involved in the process.

Why are so few journalists supportive of social when clearly it’s a big part of their jobs now? 

I feel like lack of education around the topic is to blame. Traditional journalists who have been in the space for an extended period of time have been writing stories without social their entire careers, so naturally the response would be, “Why? Another thing to do?” What is evident, is the organizations/individuals who’ve taken it upon themselves to learn the benefits of social, the efficiencies of crowd sourcing tips, sources, and content…and most of all, extending the relationship to your community. I wish more news organizations would sit down to really educate professionals on how to maximize time on social, because I think they’d see a huge improvement in their stories/product.

 

Julio Ojeda-Zapata, St. Paul Pioneer Press

So, first question: Do you believe social media will lead to the death of journalism? Why or why not?

Seriously? Social media *is* journalism. By that I mean social media is another kind of storytelling, and storytelling is journalism. Journalism is storytelling, which can be done, and *is* being done, via social media. Capisci?

Why are so few journalists supportive of social when clearly it’s a big part of their jobs now? 

If journalists are anti-social media in droves (because they’re anti-change, basically), they will be fewer and fewer in number as the years go on. You’d have a hard time finding anyone who holds that opinion where I work.

Positive views of social media and its impact on journalism have dropped from 54% in 2012 to 40% in 2013. Do you think that’s merely because the luster has wore off social a bit? Or, are journalists just asked to do too much these days and social is just one more thing on their plate?

Again, I have trouble squaring this with what I observe where I work. Journalists who are committed to finding fresh storytelling forms are, by definition, pro-social media.

 

David Brauer, Southwest Journal

So, first question: Do you believe social media will lead to the death of journalism? Why or why not?

I don’t think anything will be the *death* of journalism. There will always be some demand for a “culture of verification” — that is, a reasonably independent source to check whatever info streams are out there. In addition, the media’s role as analyst/opinionmaker/tastemaker will always be in some demand, even though other professions can also perform these functions.

People talk of “death” when what they really mean is “shrinkage” or more neutrally, “change.” Social networking does offer an increased chance for a non-journalist (or really, an individual) to be a powerful part of the culture of verification, especially when network effects kick in with other individuals, so there are appropriate times when readers (i.e. the audience) turn to their peers/trusted networks over the traditional journalist route – feeding into the “death of” narrative. Peers/networks can also substitute the analyst/opinionmaker/tastmaker role, further feeding the narrative.

However, these network effects also bring cacophany/chaos, so some share of the public finds themselves turning to journalists as “cutter-clutters” not just “fact checkers.” This has actually increased — sometimes massively — the audience for journalism (though sadly, not the revenues, though there will always be some).

Like almost every American business, journalists are experiencing true national and global competition. Remember, newspapers have traditionally employed the most journalists, and for the last generation, most have been local monopolies (for hard news and classified ads at least). We are still in a period of adjustment from monopoly to competition. Also, with the death of ad revenue, the journalism business is no longer B2B but more purely B2C. Journalists, like other sectors, are now expected to pay for themselves — this is almost unique in American history, but because of the B2C switch, they will do so with a smaller revenue base. This is why you’re seeing a bifurcated evolution — more “longform” stuff that appeals to hard-core, willing-to-spend consumers, and more “trashy, aggregated” stuff for more mass B2C appeal.

As journalists face the need to bleed costs, they will continue to shuck the segments that don’t pay. For some, it will be national wire-service-type stuff remaining readers can get anywhere (commodity content), or any story that excites no one.

Fundamentally, I believe that professionally have not hit equilibrium between supply and (paid) demand, so I am pretty sure we will  have fewer paid journalists going forward. But at some point, we will hit equilibrium, with some form of journalism still standing. If other institutions — like PR — try to fill the gap dishonestly (i.e. without providing lasting value for end users), journalism may experience revived demand and hopefully revived income (dead-cat bounce maybe).

Why are so few journalists supportive of social when clearly it’s a big part of their jobs now?

Primarily, one biased and one legitimate reason. The biased reason is simply change – you have people who fought hard & succeeded through traditional means, when communication was between fewer people on fewer fronts, and change is painful. Stick-in-the-muds.

The legitimate reason is that social can often be inefficient, where traditional methods remain efficient. I tell people only to use social networking if it works for them on some level – if there’s a good signal-to-noise ratio. But often, it can be an unproductive distraction, even if there are nuggets of good stuff there. Some journalists — including many of the best investigative reporters – eschew social because traditional document-hunting, personal networking — work better. If that’s the case, can’t argue.

Still, I think, over time, the dinosaurs will die and even the skeptics will move toward find a bit more signal in social.

Positive views of social media and its impact on journalism have dropped from 54% in 2012 to 40% in 2013. Do you think that’s merely because the luster has wore off social a bit? Or, are journalists just asked to do too much these days and social is just one more thing on their plate?

Mostly the latter. I think some resistance is related to journalism’s shrinking income, which means journalists are expected to pump out more copy. They feel relatively overwhelmed and whatever its value, social feels like an especially overwhelming addition.

There are also more idiots on social as more of the population has embraced it, hurting the signal-to-noise ratio. Also, social is still taking pieces out of journalistic revenue, so it’s probably adding to resentment over time.

 

James Norton, Heavy Table

Why are so few journalists supportive of social when clearly it’s a big part of their jobs now? 

I would chalk it up to the universal human dislike of changing one’s routines. You learn a thing, you get good at it, and you feel entitled to keep doing that indefinitely. Social media re-writes the norms not just for reporting and breaking news but also for updating and responding to comments on it. It both muddies up and greatly enhances the old way of doing things, and it makes them both more stressful and, when done correctly, richer.

Personally speaking: the more functional channels that we have to reach our readers, the better. I really enjoy the fact that social media lets us listen to and talk with our readers, and get a sense of what they like and dislike about our coverage.

Positive views of social media and its impact on journalism have dropped from 54% in 2012 to 40% in 2013. Do you think that’s merely because the luster has wore off social a bit? Or, are journalists just asked to do too much these days and social is just one more thing on their plate?

The latter. What was once a novel opportunity to play in a new space has become, in some cases, an onerous burden that visibly detracts from what many journalists see as their core role, which is to say talking to sources, doing research, and writing stories. At its best, social media can really enhance the reporting and publishing process, but at its worst, it can cross the wires between publishing, editorial and marketing, leaving journalists (once squarely in the realm of editorial) feeling conflicted and overwhelmed.

 

Dylan Belden, Minneapolis Star Tribune

So, first question: Do you believe social media will lead to the death of journalism? Why or why not?

Absolutely not. Social media can do a lot of things, but I don’t think is a threat to the existence of journalism. It is a powerful conductor for some kinds of what you’d call “citizen journalism,” like the kind of thing we saw with the Arab Spring, but that doesn’t at all replace media institutions who employ full-time journalists. Most of what I see on social media is people discussing, sharing or riffing on news that has been reported by traditional journalists. There’s still a strong need for the people who generate the news stories and put them in context.

I actually see social media as complementary to journalism. Used properly, it can amplify good journalism and help spread it. It can also be a great way to find out what people are talking about and how news is being received, which is always helpful to a journalist. And it’s a great way to break down the barrier between a journalist and the audience; they can interact and see a different side of each other.

Why are so few journalists supportive of social when clearly it’s a big part of their jobs now? 

I see a lot of acceptance of and even enthusiasm for social media in our newsroom. There are definitely those who are more involved than others, but I think most people have come to see the benefits. There is probably some resistance from people who feel like it’s a fad, or they just don’t feel they have time to learn about it or fit it into their day. But I think there are fewer and fewer journalists like that.

Positive views of social media and its impact on journalism have dropped from 54% in 2012 to 40% in 2013. Do you think that’s merely because the luster has wore off social a bit? Or, are journalists just asked to do too much these days and social is just one more thing on their plate?

I think social pays off the most for those who truly stick with it and work to build up their networks and establish themselves. That’s not the kind of thing you can necessarily do in a month or even a year. Some people may have tried out Twitter for a while, gotten little traction right away, and then dismissed it as unhelpful. But some of it may also be “one more thing on their plate.” Journalists are definitely asked to dabble in a lot more things than they used to – video, blogging, social, online chats, you name it.

David Schwartz, KARE-11

So, first question: Do you believe social media will lead to the death of journalism? Why or why not?

I don’t think it will be the death of journalism. In a way it gives us another avenue to tease content and build “a brand”. I use Twitter often for bits of information that would tease to larger stories. With 140 characters you can only do so much—so with a little information I can accomplish: Establishing that I am someone who has access to get information and that you can get even more information by going to the website or newscast that I’ll be in that night.

Why are so few journalists supportive of social when clearly it’s a big part of their jobs now?

While I can’t speak for everyone, I can tell you that I like social media from many reasons. (1) It’s another platform for me to do my job—which is to disseminate information to the public. (2) It allows me to have my finger on the pulse of what people want to know. At no time in the history of my profession has it been so easy to find out what people want to know—with social media I can see what people are already interested, what they’d like more information on and I can report on those topics. (3) I can interact with people who want their voice to be heard. I can listen and give them answers and more opinion that what I can in my normal sportscast.

Positive views of social media and its impact on journalism have dropped from 54% in 2012 to 40% in 2013. Do you think that’s merely because the luster has wore off social a bit? Or, are journalists just asked to do too much these days and social is just one more thing on their plate?

I think that just shows the divide of those who are succeeding in social media and those who refuse to accept it. Our journalism world changes daily—we are asked to do more and different things (like many professions are) and people either adapt, or find another profession that fits them better.

 

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Will social media really kill journalism?

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