Doomsday social media practitioners like to predict the death of news publishers with the advent of social media, just as people used to predict the “death of radio” with television and the “death of television” with Internet.
To this day, all these different media are still very much alive, each finding its own audience and adjusting to survive.
What is social media?
From Wikipedia: “Social media refers to the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.”
Fundamentally, social media is about two things: the people and the act of content sharing.
Where does shared content come from?
Sans the rare breaking news stories, images captured by citizen journalists, and updates on cute cats and dogs (you get the drift), what makes up the bulk of the content being shared on social media? Rather, where does quality content comes from?
Most of the content shared on social media is reposts of online newspaper or magazine articles and professionally taken photos or videos by news organisations or media personnel.
Recently, a video posted by omy.sg, the bilingual news and entertainment Web portal where I work, went viral in Singapore, garnering close to 1,000 Facebook shares in a matter of days.
The video featured the funeral of two young Singaporean brothers who were killed on the spot in a tragic traffic accident that tugged the heartstrings of the nation. The article accompanying the video garnered another 1,000 shares.
If you combine the two, that is more than 2,000 Facebook shares.
The number might not seem large, but in Singapore’s context, it is. Singapore has a small population of just over five million, and most are not avid “news sharers” culturally. News articles seldom even reach 100 shares.
When the news first broke, many Singaporeans shed tears and shared the family’s heartache at the unfortunate demise of the two brothers. Their parents were both ordinary, working-class Singaporeans with whom many could identify.
The public was hungry for news about the funeral and how their family members and parents were coping. Many wanted to help, whether in monetary form or by providing moral support.
Where does such news and information come from then? Was citizen journalism via social media enough?
No, most of the relevant news content came from news publishers. In fact, there were some tasteless members of the public who kept re-posting leaked photos of the horrific corpses of the two boys, despite calls from the boys’ family to stop.
I am proud to say none of my newsroom colleagues published those photos. We joined in the call for others to stop circulating them. In the end, the newsrooms’ reports were the news content and photos that went viral, not the photos of the corpses.
Quality content has to come from somewhere. It has to be professionally written and produced. Social media needs newspaper publishers because, without news content, there is nothing much to share.
Nonetheless, with social media, there is a paradigm shift in power from the newsroom editors as the sole influencer to the public as influencers. The editors curate what goes to print first. But after the news content is published, it is the individuals who curate each piece of news content that comes out – deciding whether it should be shared on his or her own Facebook profile.
“The medium is the message,” wrote Canadian media scholar Marshall Mcluhan in 1964. The phrase is still relevant today. Social media shapes how we produce, consume, and engage with news content. But, fundamentally, social media is about sharing, and you need content to share.
Hence content is still king.
It is not all doom and gloom. Social media needs news publishers (and vice versa). We just have to adapt and adjust to this new medium.
Don’t you agree?