You might say that I’m an old news guy. I get my news from traditional sources. There’s a Richmond Times-Dispatch in my driveway every morning, and my bathroom and car radios are both set to 88.9, the local NPR station. At work, a copy of The Washington Post waits for me when I get in. And so, by the time I start my day, I’m fairly up-to-speed on what is happening in my hometown and the world in general. That’s pretty much been the history of my news consumption throughout my adult life.
But that doesn’t mean that things haven’t changed. In fact, they have shifted dramatically. To start, when I log in to my email in the morning, there are a half-dozen emails from traditional and digital news outlets – news digests with links to the major articles of the day. Around 4 p.m. each day, I get an email from Dave Pell, whose articulate and witty Next Draft summary of the day’s biggest news stories should be required reading for every middle schooler and beyond. In the evening, depending on what has happened that day, and whether or not the Orioles are on, I can find myself watching talking heads on cable news programs, sometimes until my head wants to explode.
Connecting via social platforms
The steadiest source of news – and the most immediate – comes by way of Facebook. I follow about a dozen different news outlets on the platform, and as a result, I receive a constant stream of news on my wall – not just from daily newspapers, but feature and news magazines, public broadcasting outlets (NPR and PBS) and online-only publications. And while I’m not on Twitter (after all, a person can only take in so much), my adult kids have coaxed me onto Snapchat, whose daily links to more pop culture news are mostly about people whose names are only vaguely familiar – Kylie or Demi or Selena Something or Other? Admittedly, there’s a risk of news overload, but I suppose that’s far better than the alternative, especially these days.
[See my blog on why Facebook may make better sense for B2B bloggers than LinkedIn.]
A series of surveys released earlier this fall from the Pew Research Center tells me I’m not alone. According to Pew’s research, two-thirds (67%) of Americans say they get at least some of their news from social media, with one in four reporting that their news comes from two or more sites. That gathering trend line has been propelled mostly by folks like me (older) as well as people who are nonwhite and less educated. In fact, for the first time ever, more than half of Americans 50 and older – 55 percent and growing – say they get news from social media sites. That’s still a far cry from those under 50, three-quarters of whom (78%) look to social media for news.
Facebook is apparently the platform of choice when it comes to news. Almost half of American adults on Facebook rely on it for news. What’s even more fascinating is the fact that every other Facebook news consumer in the country – about 50 million people – say that the platform is the exclusive source of their news. In other words, they get their news from Facebook and nowhere else.
Caveat lector (reader beware)
With so many eyeballs trained on social media sites – and in many cases, only social media sites – little wonder that the Russians used these platforms to attempt to influence our thinking. (It’s estimated that Putin & Co. reached some 126 million Americans during the 2016 election.) The revelation underscores important concerns about credibility and objectivity when it comes to news served up on social platforms. I choose to follow traditional news sites on Facebook – after all, as a public relations professional, I have worked with hundreds of journalists over the years, and I have found them consistently to be fair, industrious and factual. In other words, they’ve earned my trust.
And yet, there are countless other outlets whose names are totally unfamiliar to me, and yet whose pieces flow regularly onto my news feed or are listed among the links to trending stories. Such unfamiliar commodities require us to be ever vigilant about the content that is populating our social media accounts. Facebook likes to point out that it is a technology company and not a media company. While the government may exercise some regulatory influence to press the company and other platforms to help users get a clearer picture of the source of the news they are exposed to, that underlying responsibility ultimately rests with us.
And that’s something that hasn’t changed.