Editor’s note: Yusuf Omar will discuss this blog on INMA Facebook Live at 10:30 a.m. New York City (EST) time on Tuesday, December 20. Join us live or watch the recorded video later.
It’s almost 2017 and I’m the only brown person under 35 on a News Xchange panel discussing whether the media is “out of touch?”
Some traditional media editors blame fake news for shaping world politics. They’re shocked, but they shouldn’t be.
Rather, they should take a long, hard look at themselves in the front-facing camera. Because the rise of social media as a news source reflects traditional media’s lack of diversity, disconnected as both a business and news source.
Five statements from the News Xchange opening panel prove it.
Statement #1: “Nobody has made better use of social media and the Internet than me, and, of course, Trump.” — Nigel Farage, UKIP.
Brexit and Trump proved the everyday voter no longer trusts traditional media and they’re talking online to decide who to vote for. At best, polls and traditional media missed this conversation. At worst, they severely continue to underestimate social media’s influence. But populist politicians get it.
Statement #2: “Curating selfies isn’t journalism. I’d rather die than do it. I don’t want to watch it either. But it sure isn’t journalism. Journalism is finding things out.” — Nick Robinson, BBC.
If raw and intimate scenes from the Syrian front line or rape survivor stories on Snapchat isn’t journalism, I don’t know what is. Today, anyone with a selfie camera can broadcast a story and, if it’s compelling enough, no one can stop it from going viral.
By the way, @bbcnickrobinson, BBC has done great journalism with user-generated content, like the Exodus documentary shot by refugees in rubber dinghies.
Statement #3: “Social media is not news.” — Charlotte Raab, AFP.
Since 9/11, it hasn’t been traditional media breaking the world’s biggest stories, but cellphones.
From the Arab Spring to the #BlackLivesMatter protests, social media has often dictated the news. Citing citizen reporting during the #ParisAttacks, AFP’s political editor Raab warned that “social media can be easily manipulated,” instantly and unequivocally drawing a line between fake news and social media. As if only social media contains fake news.
If we follow that (il)logic, we rapidly get to the falsehood that traditional media is the sole arbiter of truth, objectivity, and impartiality. In case you missed it, the idea that fake news is new is also fake.
Statement #4: “If he wasn’t there … ” — Jon Williams, ABC News.
“What if ABC’s bulletproof vest-wearing correspondent wasn’t in Mosul to witness the battle against ISIS unfold?” Williams asks. There’s value to having a professional journalist on the ground, and there’s equal value in every other voice from the front line, including doctors, soldiers, or civilians, like this 7-year-old selfie journalist tweeting from Aleppo.
Statement #5: “The problem with your position is that you’ve got different views, and I’m left none the wiser. Which one is right?” — Katy Searle, BBC News Westminster.
Don’t be lazy; fact check. Too many voices, perspectives or angles is a good problem to have. There’s value to everything online, even the lies. Statistically, larger sample sizes mean more accurate reporting of a population.
Journalists in 2017 must separate the voices from the noise, curate the correct, and debunk the fake. “But who does that for you?” Searle asks. We do. All of us, together. The platforms, media, and the users. But it means moving beyond a narrow definition of journalism.
The future is millions of sources, broadcasting in real time. Our job is to make sense of it all. Creation by curation.
“Millennials overwhelmingly are skeptical of mainstream news outlets,” Sarah Nasr of AJ+ says. “We should be looking at objective news with a little bit of suspicion as opposed to these voices from the ground that are telling you things maybe from a more opinionated perspective. There’s no pretense of neutrality. And so you’re getting these authentic voices and adding to conversations. And you need to take these voices into account.”
Traditional media feels so threatened by social media, but they don’t have to. In this web of unfiltered information, we need editors (not a Facebook editor) with news values to explain it all. Now, more than ever before.
Stop dismissing us. Because social and traditional media must work together to make journalism great again.