Don’t twitter away the news

What is social media’s relationship to TV news? That’s the question we pose in the latest issue of Euromedia, which you can read here as a digital magazine. Is it an opportunity of a threat? The answer is that it is both.

Contributors to our piece take a pretty optimistic view. That’s not surprising as they are drawn either from news channels or social media enablers. But even among them there are some notes of caution.

The benefits are obvious; Twitter, Facebook and all their variants and imitators, provide new channels through which to despatch the news, and whether it’s by waving flags from high places, or dotting and dashing in Morse code, people – and particularly journalists – cannot resist flocking to the quickest way to ‘get the story out.’ Social media also provides a new way to bring stories to light; it has played a big part in circumventing the censorship of erstwhile authoritarian regimes, and has born witness to atrocities and natural disasters as they happen.

But perhaps most beneficial, social media provides a means of engagement with a young and connected audience, an audience that many have feared is becoming worryingly disengaged from the ‘traditional’ political process. News organisations see an opportunity to dialogue with their audience; instant comments on the news, polls on issues, direct interaction with ‘star’ reporters and anchors – it all helps to capture and keep an audience in a very competitive world.

So it’s all upside? Maybe not. The news is more than just the headlines, but the eye-blink attention span of social media is rarely a friend of considered analysis. And what about social media as the story; an instinct to react instantly to news on the part of the channel and its’ audience can breed a kind of exponential knee-jerk reaction; an arms race of vacuity. The reaction to the story becomes the story itself and professional reporting, inquisitive questioning and acute analysis suffocate in an avalanche of amateur aggrandisement.

Social media has many attributes, but if we let it become too intrinsic to the news process don’t we undermine its key function of reporting facts and objective opinion? Shock jocks – whether you like them or hate them – are the product of letting the loudest and weirdest of the kind of people who phone up radio programmes into the studio to make those phone-in shows. That’s OK in the rubber room of talk show radio, but let’s not risk it with the news.

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