Jul 1, 2009
New media has changed the way we consume and spread information. Social media mavens might want you to believe that blogs, tweets and social networks are all it takes to spread news. And fast. That sort of takes traditional media out of the picture. It’s dying after all, right? Or is it?
I learned of Michael Jackson’s death via email. Not by Twitter, not by blogs, but by email. One of the first things I do when I wake up in the morning is get online. And when I get online, I usually check emails first, Tweets next, then blogs. Afterwards, I might get my fill of news from NYTimes, Inquirer.net or other online newspaper sites. Might.
And I learned of his death from an email by a financial news website I’m subscribed to. Financial news, of all things!
And so social media has been instrumental in spreading the word about the demise of the King of Pop. In a Loose Wire column by Jeremey Wagstaff, he maps out the flow of information during this eventful day. He also asks the important question: where did you hear of MJ’s death?
It’s not easy for traditional media to cover any type of story these days, what with so many amateurs, semi-amateurs, so-called pro-ams (professional amateurs), in the game.
But all that tells me is that the game probably needs to be changed.
Traditional media are used to confirming things before they run them.
But what happens in a world where information travels so quickly, through so many different channels?
It no longer makes sense to say nothing until you can say something.
Mr. Wagstaff points out how new media channels beat traditional media by about an hour in reporting this news. Of course, newspaper and other broadcast media need to verify information from reliable sources before running stories. And that is all right. That is their responsibility. And that’s how social media and traditional media complement each other–new media breaks it, traditional media confirms it.
In cases of news like this breaking fast like wildfire, people tend to jump the gun, and spread the word without thinking about the repercussions. Just yesterday, Twitter was abuzz with the supposed “death” of Rick Astley. Someone posted the “news” on user-contributed iReport and the word was spread on Twitter. Fast. And probably because iReport looks like a real online version of a traditional newspaper, people believed the report.
We’ve been Rickrolled all over again. And it’s not even April 1st.
What are the roles of the different media?
And so, folks, we’ve defined the roles of the different mediums, and let me reiterate. Social media like blogs and microblogging services aid in grassroots reporting. People are on the scene, and they take photos. They publish blog posts. They tweet. And the word spreads. At this point, traditional media folks would already be doing their rounds of fact-checking, getting in touch with contacts on the scene, drafting the articles, and passing it through the usual editorial channels.
But then, as the Loose Wire column did, let me highlight the role of Twitter here. While Google is the first place you would go to search for relevant information, Twitter would probably be the best place to go if you want fresh information. Google, after all, does have a lag in crawling websites for content.
Google News buckled under the pressure, firstly from all the attention and then latterly because the results from its own little automatic bots which go out and index news pages didn’t show up on Google News until 2246—an hour and a half after TMZ.com’s story saying Jackson was dead.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, if people are posting about it, it’s searchable. Right there and then. You don’t know if the information is valid. But the fact that it’s being talked about–and probably trending, too–means it’s currently hot and fresh!
But what is the lesson here?
The lesson here is simple. We, users of social media, are reminded to be responsible with how we consume and share information. If you read an interesting news tidbit online (e.g., “Rick Astley Dies”), don’t be too quick in retweeting or reposting it. Reposting without checking your facts is like incessantly forwarding those chain or joke emails. It’s tacky. And you might end up making a fool out of yourself, especially if Rick Astley suddenly makes an appearance, alive and well. Never gonna give you up!
A simple cross-checking wouldn’t hurt. And perhaps you can more carefully word your posts or tweets. Stating something as a fact is surely different from stating something as a claim, conditional on being verified first.
Still, there is no denying that the information landscape is fast changing. And we are all participants, whether we like it or not.
And that, folks, is how news breaks.