Social Media vs. Print Journalism

By Rachel McHollister | November 4, 2010

We are all aware of the growing social media world, but have we thought about how it’s going to shape our newspapers?

“Technology and the pace of change in media is pushing us into an uncomfortable area. [...] The media have perhaps become more cavalier towards pushing confidential information,” warned television producer Jim Michaels, at a recent conference of online news gatherers and quoted in a summary article by Craig Silverman published in the The Canadian Journalism Project [j-source.ca]: “Treat Social Media like a tip line, not a reporter.

Social media has forever changed the face of print journalism, people no longer have to wait a day to read the latest news briefs, they no longer even have to sit — whether in front of a computer or a newspaper — to get an update. They simply unlock their iPhones, BlackBerrys, iPads, etc. and are instantly linked to the world via their social media feed. We no longer need to thumb through all the pages of the newspaper to get up-to-date coverage on whatever peaks our interest, we simply press ‘Refresh’ and we are instantly updated. Alternatively, using tools like Google or EYE.ca, we can selectively seek out news on only the topics or keywords we wish to read about.

As a journalist I would love to say that I am an avid newspaper reader, but I tend to get my updates via my Twitter stream, on a news web site or by word of mouth. I usually don’t have the time in the morning to sit with a nice cup of coffee and read an entire article in The Globe and Mail. But I generally don’t need to either. Almost seconds after a big story breaks, my Twitter feed is immediately inundated with coverage of whatever just broke. I no longer have to wait a day, I no longer have to even wait a minute!

Silverman’s article also quoted the National Public Radio CEO, Vivian Schiller, who’s comments I believe sheds some light on the supposed tug of war between social media vs. print journalism: “One thing that is wrongly hyped is social media. [...] For many media organizations, they think it of it as distribution, and yes it’s good for that. What’s missing is the power of social media for engagement with the audience and for news gathering.” She is quite right that social media is not yet being effectively used by most. One only needs to look at the Twitter feeds of most newspapers, often automatically and blindly retweeting the contents of their daily paper, flooding us with article titles and links.

However, if done right, SMS-like updates such as Twitter tweets can give us 140 characters of insight into a story, a true “brief”. Although only a tiny glimpse at the entire story, most people only have time for that and, in many cases, usually only want a short update anyhow. Indeed, as was quoted Jim Brady, former Washington Post editor: “The commodity that’s most restricted in people’s lives is time.”

It is hard to determine where print journalism is going to go in the next several years, and whether it is truly in competition with social media. I can make my own judgement, we all could. Canwest, BlackPress, from the local Winnipeg Free Press, up to the National Post, each are trying to figure out how to engage the reader in their own way. Will print newspapers become a thing of the past? In Canada, at least not for another 18 years, as recently pledged the Globe and Mail.

Only time will tell if Canadians are going to completely leave print newspapers behind, but the publicized fight between print vs. digital might be overblown. In the end, as journalists: “Our mission couldn’t be simpler, it is to provide news and information to more people in more ways [...] Our role is to make sure we are there where our audience is, and however they want to consume us.” (Vivian Schiller, quoted by Silverman)


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