No, newsrooms don’t need to cede control to social media.

But they do need to evolve.

Ben Werdmuller

--

In the Washington Post, Taylor Lorenz writes about how influencers creating news content directly on modern social networks are outstripping traditional news sites in popularity:

News consumption hit a tipping point around the globe during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, with more people turning to social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube and Instagram than to websites maintained by traditional news outlets.

[…] “There are no reasonable grounds for expecting that those born in the 2000s will suddenly come to prefer old-fashioned websites, let alone broadcast and print, simply because they grow older,” Reuters Institute Director Rasmus Kleis Nielsen said in the report, which is based on an online survey of roughly 94,000 adults in 46 national markets, including the United States.

The trouble is, of course, that creators and publications who publish directly on social media platforms are putting themselves at the mercy of the business decisions and policy whims of those companies. The history of the internet is packed with stories of publications that fell afoul of algorithmic or business changes at tech companies which earned their trust. The phrase “pivot to video” — an artifact of when Facebook enticed publishers to create more video on its platforms using falsified metrics — will still elicit a wince from newsroom product teams. Even more recently, Twitter’s journey over the last year serves as a potent warning about how platforms can devolve, potentially bringing dependent publications down with them.

But that’s doesn’t mean Taylor or the Reuters Institute report she cites are wrong. There are two key factors at play here: a loss of trust in journalistic institutions in favor of individuals, and a change in expectations around where to find content on the internet.

The loss of trust in institutions has been ongoing for decades, and in some cases is well-earned. It’s also part of a shift in trust from brands to individuals overall. That’s been accelerated by social media in part, but really comes down to human dynamics. Influencers tend to be more representative of audience demographics than news institutions, which still skew older

--

--

Ben Werdmuller

Writer: of code, fiction, and strategy. Trying to work for social good.