Does Social Media Decide What’s Newsworthy?

It is becoming increasingly common for consumers to turn to their favourite social platforms to find out what’s going on in the world around them — and in certain demographics, this is fast becoming the norm, over TV and print.

This trend is partly due to the fact that anyone can post eyewitness accounts and first hand footage of events directly to Twitter as they unfold; less than a week ago, onlookers captured and shared images of presidential nominee Hillary Clinton collapsing during a 9/11 commemoration ceremony, sparking a global conversation.

News organisations are wise to this, with giants like CNN and Sky News developing their own best practices for curating a network of citizen journalists who can provide trustworthy and verifiable content. In a Social Media Week London panel, speakers from CNN, Sky News and Twitter offer up their thoughts on the relationship between social media and news.


For example; is social media actually shaping the outcome of current events? The line between spectators and participants in a story is more blurred than ever, and social platforms are the channel of choice for many when it comes to political discourse. Rob Owers, Head of News and Government Partnerships at Twitter, isn’t sure whether Twitter has the power to shape elections, but he does believe that it creates an environment in which millions of people can actively engage in a topic which they might previously have dismissed as boring — he cites the recent EU Referendum as Exhibit A.

There are also concerns that social media is creating an unhealthy news diet for consumers, as they personalise their feeds, creating a potential echo chamber — are such fears legitimate? Owers says that Twitter encourages users to follow a diverse range of perspectives to avoid exactly this. Hazel Baker, Digital News Editor at Sky News, points out that this is nothing new; there are men and women from previous generations who might have only taken their news from single sources such as the BBC, or the Guardian, or the Sun. “Millennial consumption might be less loyal, but that could have its advantages,” she says.

In another panel, The Economist’s social team outlined the varying approaches they’ve taken in bringing stories to an online audience. Some of these were wins, such as the Espresso TV, which combines high quality storytelling with snackable video, while others were definite teachable moments — such as the now-infamous “why aren’t millennials buying diamonds?” tweet. Which goes to show that chasing younger audiences without changing your voice is just embarrassing for everyone.

And what about newer, less traditional news outlets who have built an audience in the younger demographic? Being a non-legacy media brand might make you more nimble in certain scenarios, but as Owers puts it: “Just because you’re new, doesn’t mean you’re better.” Rachel Rodriguez, Social Media Producer at CNN, personally doesn’t see platforms like BuzzFeed and VICE as a threat. Quite the opposite, in fact. “The great thing about journalism is that there are an infinite number of stories in the world,” she says. “Everyone has their niche.” And she views social channels like Snapchat as an exciting opportunity for CNN to reach entirely new audiences.

“Play to your strengths,” adds Baker, “but don’t lose sight of what your competitors are doing.”

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