Social Media’s Growing Up by Learning its Lessons from Traditional Sources

By Jason Menard

Sure, there may still be some growing pains here and there, but there are signs that social media is growing up and it’s putting the responsibility for content back where it belongs – the reader — thanks to lessons learned from traditional sources.

Two recent examples have illustrated this perfectly. I discussed the Tori Stafford murder trial coverage, and the tribulations it caused amongst a media struggling to figure out how to balance the public’s right to know with its equal right to not know. In the end, especially on Twitter, local media chose to post key messages on their main feeds, directing them to full content on a parallel Twitter channel – with full disclaimers and warnings of the graphic content.

Overseas, with the Anders Breivik case in the headlines and fears that it could become an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant platform for the admitted killer of 77, one newspaper has offered its readers an option to remove Breivik-related articles from their on-line presentation.

Traditional media outlets are at a crossroads when it comes to social media. They’re still wrestling with how to effectively make money in an environment where information has been devalued. The rise of so-called citizen journalists has brought about a scenario where those hungry for content can find it. Unfortunately, the quality of that content varies and consumers have to be far more savvy about carefully examining from whence this content comes – and what biases are propelling it into cyberspace.

It’s a world where access to information is instantaneous and first-to-publish has taken on a greater importance than being correct. Retractions, once rare and painful, are now a regular part of citizen reporting. Talk first, ask questions later, and apologize last.

And when it comes to disseminating information, traditional media is now playing a game with two sets of rules. In some cases, it’s a free-for-all – people posting information without supplying a filter. For traditional media, they’re still playing under the old rules – better rules in my opinion.

But clicks are king. If you’re not going to provide information first, someone else will. And will you be able to get those clicks back?

Back in the Mahaffey-French murder trials, the publication ban was effective. Canadians were not able to obtain the details of the court case through Canadian media. The only way around it was courtesy of U.S. publications not subject to the same rules. However, unless you lived close enough to a border to make it worth your while, access to information was more challenging.

Now? That access is just a Twitter feed away. For better or for worse.

Fortunately, responsible publications and media outlets are taking the lead in defining what and how information is delivered. It costs nothing but a reporter’s time to set up a secondary Twitter feed, thereby providing value to your entire readership. If you want to know all the gory details of theStaffordcase, you can receive them in real time; if you want to just receive an overview, then the main feeds are there for you.

In doing so, media is paying its readership the ultimate respect by giving it the choice as to how they want their content delivered. The days of one-size-fits-all media are coming to and end. Instead, social media allows the public to pick and choose from an à la carte menu of content.

And opportunities for growth abound. Instead of being restricted to one point of view, readers are able, with minimal effort, to search out contrasting perspectives. They can easily access both the hard facts and qualified analysis.

There are still going to be those rogues out there who treat citizen journalism as a Wild-West-esque frontier, but increasingly people are seeing the value – or lack thereof – of those sources.

Content may still be king, but context certainly plays an important role in the court. Social media is growing up. Fortunately it’s learning its lessons from traditional sources.

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