The Struggles of a Journalist in a Social Networking World | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

The Struggles of a Journalist in a Social Networking World

Comment Editor Alex Goodwin discusses the negative effects of social media on journalism.

As a politics student and aspiring journalist, I find myself constantly overwhelmed with the fall in journalistic integrity in today’s society.

Social networking sites have moved to the foreground of news consumption for the masses. Politicians now take to Twitter to reach citizens directly: Facebook has algorithms to decide what news will encounter the highest ‘click baits’ and Snapchat offers ‘snap’ news stories at the bottom of your friends’ updates.

The problem with the rise of 'fake news' is that real journalism has taken a back foot

Whilst I am all for information being readily available to a wider field of individuals, there are many issues linked to this shift in how we consume informative news. Donald Trump seems to agree with me, as every news story that negatively portrays the 45th President he simply deconstructs with the phrase: ‘fake news.’

The problem with the rise of ‘fake news’ and Internet users consuming Tweets and Facebook articles by ‘The Onion’ as factually relevant information is that real journalism has taken a back foot.

Unlike the content on social media, writers are held (at least to some extent) to journalistic laws, including issues of contempt, copyright, privacy, defamation and the courts. For example, most publications could not directly defame or attack a social group, including racial and religious identities (though of course The Sun and The Daily Mail flirt heavily with this line).

Whose responsibility is it to ensure journalism doesn’t lose its foundation and purpose?

However, when influential individuals tweet out to the millions of Twitter users, their opinions are often assumed to be factual information. For example, when the President tweets out to defame certain individuals, one usually wouldn’t question their integrity. Little can be done to hold the tweeter accountable for the spreading of false harmful ideas, and once it is out to the public, screenshots and retweets means it cannot be withdrawn with a formal apology.

The US Election and Brexit were two very significant examples of this problem. Politicians and social networking ‘click-bait’ journalists were biased in their approach to these events, which often made it difficult for citizens to decipher what information was truly based upon facts, free from personal political motives.

The main issue with this is the press then fails consumers. Fred Seaton Seibert’s book ‘Four Theories of the Press’ (1956) describes how within a Democratic society the press holds a ‘Social Responsibility Theory’, whereby their main job and function is to relay informative news to the people, to help citizens vote in elections and set policy agendas.

The view that the young remain apathetic is, to me, an unfair assumption

But where does Seibert’s theory stand in a growing social networking society? Can we maintain journalistic integrity with the rise of social news sites? Whose responsibility is it to ensure journalism doesn’t lose its foundation and purpose?

With America being at the heart of the polarised press and Britain not lagging too far behind, it seems a new era of journalism is inevitable. It is no longer about keeping the masses merely informed, but rather it revolves heavily around profit motives and political propaganda. News outlets directly appeal to a certain social group, i.e. in America this falls under Republicans or Democrats. The problem is that their news consumption is so heavily targeted, it doesn’t allow for any other viewpoints to come into account. In my opinion, this is very dangerous, especially in a world already embedded in hate and ignorance.

Students are often at the heart of political radicalism, aspiring to social change and equality. The view that the young remain apathetic is, to me, an unfair assumption.

Many of my friends and fellow students are advocates in gender and racial equality, and take drastic life style changes in an attempt to reduce their ecological footprint. Many of these students are given a voice through university press, but it is difficult not to be disheartened when you see how people then choose to consume their news.

Outlets such as the Independent have had to cease printing papers as they can’t attract the readers. Instead, these readers would rather turn to social networking sites, which can only result in the decrease of integrity, accountability and further outlets following the Independent’s paperless fate.

The main issue isn’t that actual journalists have lost their integrity or worth, but rather the real news associations can no longer attract the audiences it once did, as they lose out to Social Networking Site news forums. Individuals in policy creation should not be slandering the journalist profession; instead, citizens should be encouraged to seek out the truth. Little good can come from a select few individuals with agenda-setting motives targeting limited information to particular groups.

Seibert constructed his ‘Social Responsibility Theory’ in the fifties, but the modern day could learn a lesson from the past and reclaim the rising era of social networking news.

4th year Political Science and International Relations student (@alexgoodwin_)


19th October 2017 at 9:00 am

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