There is no question that today’s social media is responsible for a dramatic change in the relationship between those who produce the news and those who subscribe to it. No longer are subscribers defined as non-journalists who simply get the news by reading newspapers, watching television or listening to reports on radio.
Today, consumers of news are also gatherers of news: they participate in creating it, capturing it, and disseminating it.
The news industry began to see this evolution with the popularity of social networking sites like YouTube and Facebook. First, they seemed to be venues for entertainment and gossip, but soon they began to develop into sources of information, providing eyewitness accounts during sporting events, natural disasters, and street protests.
Acknowledging the value of blogs, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and now, Twitter, the majority of radio newsrooms are now using some form of social media to advance and broadcast their news stories.
In our recent survey of 50 radio newsrooms in the top 50-markets, we learned that:
- Nearly half of respondents (45%) use Twitter and Facebook, primarily to offer their technologically savvy audiences an extension of conventional radio and provide another broadcast platform;
- Thirty percent of respondents believe that keeping pace with technology and using social media builds listenership loyalty and goes a long way towards keeping fans tuned-in to their car radios during morning or afternoon drive, when they can’t access their iPhones or laptops; and
- The majority of reporters in radio newsrooms (56%) rely on social media for story leads from “citizen journalists,” and 34% say social media not only provides leads – ideas that can potentially be developed into news stories – but can also provide possible sources of information – an expert or witness who can shed light on a particular subject being investigated or researched for news stories.
But with the benefits of social media, come some reservations as well. Producers and reporters fear:
- Raw, unfiltered fragments of information – 100% of the news operations we surveyed said accuracy and credibility are a top priority and the words, pictures, or video of “citizen journalists” must be double and triple-checked against reliable sources;
- Speed will replace accuracy – 100% of the newsrooms we surveyed said, they do not believe social media will ever replace mainstream media, but in the competitive environment of trying to be the first to break news or broadcast the “exclusive,” fact may give way to fiction, and the loss of trust is very difficult to rebuild for a news organization; and
- Hidden political, social and moral agenda’s may find their way into the news to influence public opinion – 100% of the news reporters and producers we surveyed say social media, like Twitter, are important in getting news out of countries like Iran that control media, but, whose tweets do you believe? Dramatic scenes can be manipulated by citizens, just as they can be manipulated by governments or other powers.
For the public, social media appears to mean the free flow of more information, but to news organizations surveyed, it can also mean sorting through more rumor and clamor to avoid misinformation.