Social media changes what makes news


The news cycle often decides what’s important based on the tenets of “newsworthiness” – a water is wet definition to describe topics and information that easily engage people and that are easily talked about.

Before the dawn of social media, news outlets often dictated what people should know, and, depending on the publication or network, explained how some events were more important than others, communicated by placement in a newspaper or story length in a broadcast.

Now that social media has become second nature to growing parts of the population, the news landscape is saturated with different stories, points of view and information. People have many more options from which to gather their knowledge and stay up to date with current events and this increase in supply has flipped the news narrative.

Now, instead of people picking up a paper to learn something completely new as they did before, news organizations are pulling from the mass of voices and cleaning up viral content.

The democratic nature of news has not completely dominated the pattern of dissemination but the symbiotic relationship between social media and journalism has allowed for a number of topics that previously would not have been newsworthy to blow up to viral status.

The many benefits of social media from simply keeping people informed to passing on a powerful message quickly are affected by what seem to be changing priorities. Thinking back as far as the late 1990s fewer stories of “importance” had to do with small town events and more to do with national issues.

The obvious conclusion is that social media didn’t exist in that decade and so no one could hear the story of a young boy saving his sister from a burning car and, because they never heard, they wouldn’t care.

The above mentioned example is indicative of the rise of more emotional stories; the kind of narratives that tug at heart strings. Since most people can connect easily with these stories they tend to spread like wildfire and news organizations have begun to spend more resources on combing the internet to find stories that have this viral value.

However, it’s rare that a news organization finds a story that web culture hasn’t already latched onto and pushed into the general consciousness. The increasing dependence of journalism on democratic dissemination is almost funny because the news is trying to find, rather than dictate, “the news.”