In the 1930s, there were two primary news sources: radio and the newspaper. They sent their correspondents around the world to gather news. These journalists would see and hear, verify and corroborate, investigate, and then expertly and objectively file their reports. The reader (or listener) would know that an editor provided oversight, and the publication (or radio station) stood behind the report.
When television came around in the 1950s, this model still worked. Sixty years later, media has evolved significantly, and so has “reporting.” Consider:
- The cost of reporting has meant that newspapers have significantly reduced the number of reporters in the field. This has been exacerbated by declining ad revenues.
- Many “news” shows are now run by the entertainment divisions of the networks: sensationalism and ratings now trumps the “public good” of the news.
- The line between being a reporter (objective/independent) and being a columnist (who is expected to have a strong opinion) is often blurred.
- The 1000 channel universe on the cable dial means that news is available literally around the clock, from dozens of news networks.
- The billion-channel universe – the internet – has meant that consumers can consume any “news”, from any outlet, from anywhere in the world. The scope of choice has expanded, and also the locus of control: the user self-selects what they wish to consume.
Probably the biggest change has been the impact of the social web – sometimes called citizen journalism.
- Bloggers – often with huge followings – provide a narrowcast view into their area of focus.
- Twitter provides an instant on-the-ground perspective – directly from people who are there.
- YouTube provides graphic footage on news – often as it is happening.
- Facebook provides perspective from people… who are just like you
- Google News auto-curates content – not a real person who can exercise judgement.
In a certain sense, Social Media is squeezing out traditional journalism. Something is gained, but something is also being lost. No guarantee of accuracy. No editing. No guarantee of independence. No oversight. While it is true that the wisdom of the crowd will expose the most egregious errors (and bias), there is no guarantee that what is being read is reporting, or merely opinion masquerading as reporting, or even propaganda pretending to be reporting.
As a result, consumers – and marketers – get trapped in their own information bubble. They learn what they want to learn, from people they want to learn from. They don’t listen to the “other”, and they feed themselves data that is incorrect, biased, or corrupt. They don’t get exposed to the diversity of thinking and perspective that will allow them to make their best decisions.
This week’s action plan: We can’t turn back the clock on Social Media (and we most certainly don’t want to), but where do you get your data points for making your decisions? Collecting a diverse perspective is no longer the responsibility of professional journalists – it is now up to us. This week, ensure that you get that balance by consuming information from, and about, “the other”.
“Historical” Insight: Mainstream media never really was without bias. A photographer could choose an unflattering picture of a politician. An editor can choose a questionable headline. Or devote more space to stories that are critical of a pet issue. What’s new is that Social Media has a completely different set of checks-and-balances – and the reader is never sure what they are.