As social media is becoming increasingly important to the traditional media, we need to check just how important that makes this new medium. Wadim Schreiner is concerned that people see Twitter as a better source of news than the traditional media.
Many international studies point to the increasing use of references to social media content by traditional media. Our research covering 2011 trends shows that traditional media has been overtaken by Twitter and Facebook as the most frequently quoted news source.
Long-standing titles like the Sunday Times, City Press as well as Mail & Guardian were quoted less by other media. While Facebook was quoted around 70 times by traditional media in 2010 and Twitter just over 50 times, Twitter scored 500 mentions and Facebook just over 400 in 2011.
Social media gurus could interpret this as a new media victory and a sure sign that paper media (journalists) are a dying breed. What is concerning about the figures is less the fact that social media is being seen as a news source than that Twitter is itself becoming the news.
Take a look at the #hotcrossbuns story that hit headlines over Easter. A small group of Christians insisted that the approval of Woolworths’ hot cross buns by the Muslim Council, expressed through their halaal logo on the packaging, had infringed on their religious beliefs. That small group tweeted their dismay to another small group. As a result, Woolworths, which by the admission of CEO Ian Muir, does not really understand social media, went on to profusely apologise for causing pain to the complainants.
Large companies such as Woolworths are easy targets of what a Radio 702 caller recently referred to as ‘religionists’. The company was forced to put Christian magazines back on the shelves a year or so ago after a few people complained. Though outside of social media and the few offended people, the story was not headline news until the traditional media came into play. On a recent radio discussion about the impact of social media and traditional media, a caller said that what makes social media so valuable as a news source is the fact that it is not as biased as traditional media. Really? Are we supposed to take every social media post at face value because no third force can influence it?
Are the many internal checks and balances that traditional media have in place and who are, on top of that, governed by a Press Ombudsman (soon to be in a new system of independent co-regulation) worth less than the unqualified comments of the few? Are the comments from the few individuals complaining about Woolworths’ hot cross buns suddenly worth more because people on Twitter talked about it? Becoming news simply because the topic was trending?
The question here is whether social media provides better quality information. Is the news richer because of it? I am not convinced. The fact that social media is now quoted more regularly by traditional media is perhaps less proof of its impact than a sign that the focus of many journalists is not extending beyond social media.
The medium undoubtedly has a role to play in shaping the news agenda. Despite this, should we not add a pinch of salt to the many storms in the Twittercup?
This story was first published in the June 2012 issue of The Media magazine.