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Social Media: A Turning Point for Journalism

Today, journalists are facing more challenges than ever before due to the new, digital age. The rise in technological and social transformations have meant that the journalistic industry can now operate twenty-four hours, seven days a week. Only a decade ago, society had to wait for news to be available via print, radio and TV, whereas online platforms such as Google, Twitter and Facebook allow global updates to be obtainable whenever and wherever the audience so desires. In addition to this endless accessibility, these real-time outlets also enable journalists to have live conversations with their audience, what was once traditional one-way conversation has now turned into two-way online debating. Social media has reinvented the meaning of freedom of speech, expressing yourself has never been easier.

Although the relationship between social media and journalism may portray many advantages, such as increasing awareness, it can also be argued that it has actually created a world where we now receive too much news. User-generated content, otherwise known as USG, is used to describe anyone with an online platform having the ability to post any type of content they wish, be it images, videos, thoughts and opinions, whenever and however they choose. This means that those receiving their news via social media cannot always figure out the veracity of the story and thus workout which news organisation they should trust. The way in which we consume news has now drastically changed. Users of social media pose the questions:

Who are the real journalists, and who are the real publishers?

Even if the audience is able to distinguish between the official journalist and just another person with a social media account, the question of trust still remains. The fight among news publications for clicks and attention has become so brutal, that the method of false advertisement, commonly known as clickbait, is now used more often than not. Clickbait refers to writing headlines in a way that entices or ‘baits’ readers to click on to a link, especially when it leads to content of dubious value or interest. This method of journalism is demonstrated in a variety of ways such as using key words like shocking, killing, graphic; using celebrities names and images, and indicating that the link will reveal horrific/amazing truths and lies. More often than not, the large majority of people who source their daily news via social media are known as the millennials, those who reached young adulthood in the early 21st century, and are also the group who are typically glued to their phone. News websites that promote their content through social media are aware that these users are constantly scrolling without any real engagement, thus they will tend to use words and phrases that will suddenly capture the reader’s attention and will then click the link that has said to provide them with such quality content. Whilst this may be a simpler way for a publication to receive a large number of clicks and acknowledgment, the time spent on the websites lies on the other end of the scale, which can potentially damage the relationship between that particular publisher and the reader.

One journalist who has seen the impact that social media has on this industry first-hand is Rachael Davies. Whilst she is a freelance journalist by trade, she also partakes in social media management, copywriting and Ad Hoc marketing. Though it may be hard to believe that social media and journalism can work well together, ignoring all the clickbait, fake news and algorithms, Rachael is a firm believer that it has actually helped her line of work.

“Social media has actually advantaged me in my work. I have started to cross the two mediums [social media and journalism] and branch out into short-form social media journalism, where stories and news are told directly within social media. This also makes research far easier, if you know how to fact check/which types of sources to trust".

It is no secret that discovering what sources to trust has become a tricky task within the journalism industry. As mentioned previously, the likes of clickbait and fake news are just a few of the aspects that give journalism an arguably bad reputation, but what are Rachael’s thoughts on this? Is social media the only excuse for this?

“I don’t think clickbait and fake news are fully down to social media. I think they would have come about anyway, due to the rise of populism and the inevitable impact on journalism-social media just makes it easier”.

Clickbait isn’t the only thing that social media helps with. It has also allowed for user-generated content. USG has blown up so much throughout the past decade, that people are now arguing those with a social media account, typically Twitter, are now modern-day journalists. Will this take away the credibility and trust from those who have worked their way up?

“I think there needs to be an obvious difference between user-generated content and journalism. Every day, social media accounts become great resources to be included in journalistic work, but there still needs to be a level of fact-checking and attempt to show a balanced view, that is arguably missing from many traditional journalistic publications. No journalist can be without bias, but the good ones will make some attempt to address it and show a clear and full picture. You can’t trust every person with a social media account to do this, and many people do not have the media training to tell the difference”.

So, how does a journalist who works within both social media and journalism see their relationship in the future? Will the grey area continue to increase, or does Rachael believe the two will grow together?

“I think the two will go closer hand-in-hand, and there will be an even bigger rise in social media journalism and native content, rather than linking external platforms and publications. I also thing user-generated content will continue to increase, and there will be a greater need for digital training, both in the greater public and for journalists”.

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