My nationwide survey of news directors at network affiliate television stations explores the impact social media is having on editorial and production decisions related to newscasts. I recently presented the research paper in Montreal at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
- Popular, or trending, content and topics on social media are a significant factor in which stories newsrooms choose to cover.
- The reliance on social media content has increased the chances that newsrooms will spread misinformation. A third of respondents indicated their stations have reported information from social media that was later found to be false or inaccurate.
- Policy has not caught up with practice. One of the more striking findings of this study is, of those newsrooms that have social media policies, nearly 40% said the policy does not include procedures for verifying social media content before it is included in a newscast.
Lessons for News Managers and Educators
- These findings, about selection and treatment of stories, raise a cautionary point about social media’s impact on editorial decisions. News outlets must not become overly dependent on social media as a source for stories. Focusing on topics from social media can lead the public to perceive those issues as more important than stories uncovered through traditional means. Social media is not a replacement for journalists attending school board meetings, walking the halls of City Hall or poring through the county budget, for example.
- A social media policy must include processes for vetting social media content and whom is responsibility for this task.
- Even though today’s journalism students are considered “digital natives,” having grown up with the new media tools, we cannot assume they know how to use social media in journalistic ways. At least one course in journalism programs must explore how journalists and news organizations are using emerging forms of social media. Students should gain hands-on experience by experimenting with social media for newsgathering, distribution, and audience engagement.