There is a lot of discussion going on about how news breaks on social media and on mainstream media and about the merits of each. According to Brian Stelter and Jennifer Preston’s “Turning to Social Networks for News”
, social media news tends to start out as speculation and gossip and breaks fast. Mainstream media is slower but more reliable in terms of the facts. Each has their cycles and speeds but which is more trustworthy? Are we really ready to declare that we do not need traditional media anymore? That everything we need to know we can learn from social media? I think not. There is evidence amidst the analysis that follows suggesting mainstream news is still an essential news source. One particularly interesting piece of evidence can be found in Stacey Higginbotham’s discussion of “The 7 Stages of News in a Twitter and Facebook Era”
. Applying it to the context of the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, a pattern emerges. According to Higginbotham it begins with excitement, there is excitement about the news but also the thrill of being the first to report this news. Then there is uncertainty as the validity of the news is questioned. Here she says that “some were waiting for the news venue of their choice to weigh in, while others were waiting for the coming statement from the President.” Social media news, or citizen journalism, is not self-reliant. People still look to a source of authority for confirmation. I am not saying that citizen journalism is bad, because it has its place and it is an essential component for keeping people informed and engaged with news. I am merely stating that this is an indication that people cannot go off of social media news alone. This is echoed in the next stage of the cycle, ‘searching for validation.’ People simultaneously want the news to be true and fear being wrong. They are quick to praise those reporting details as well as scorn those who should have exercised more caution than haste. Only after confirmation by mainstream media and other authorities, does the cycle continue.
Confirmation cues the ‘jokes, profits and platitudes’ stage, where clichés, jokes, and attempts to profit from the event via clever Twitter account names are the norm. However, there is also action that springs from social media news and this is its most valuable merit. The action stage is where people seek more information and act in groups, such as the White House assembly on the lawn the night of Obama’s speech. The cycle concludes with real analysis, which mainly happens in discussion offline unless it occurs through blog or news article links on social media. Note again that news article links are a representation of mainstream media in the social media sphere, and that again calls attention to the need for these sources to work in tandem with social media to break and circulate news. What they have is more of a partnership than a competition. Social media starts it off with all of the drama, it builds excitement, tension and speculation. There is also uncertainty as people are apprehensive to claim allegiance to one side or the other until news is confirmed. Then the news breaks on mainstream media and people make light of it, which guarantees it will be circulated and given everyone’s attention. At the same time, social media does something traditional news does not and that is to provide space for interaction that prompts action. Then the real analysis takes place with reference to traditional media as well as social media in the form of blogs. Hence, one cannot exist without the other. At the same time, this also means that social media news is not going to kill traditional or mainstream news. Mainstream news has been around longer and has already taken the most important step by placing itself in the online arena, where it can be utilized alongside social media to create a more complete news cycle. Yet to have one without the other would be like having peanut butter without the jelly, mainstream media and social media work best together and both deserve to be present within the ultimate news cycle.