There is a growing divide between people who get their news from traditional media and those who prefer informing themselves via social media sources such as Facebook and Twitter.
Never in the history of modern man has so much free information been available to such a vast number of people, unfiltered and often in real time.
This shift away from traditional media to new sources of information was first utilized to their advantages by citizens rising up against repressive governments during the Arab Spring of 2011. The use of social media both for organizing and disseminating information during large-scale protests became even more evolved during the Occupy Protests in the United States beginning in 2012.
The real-time reporting of information during Occupy, at times, made traditional media look like a plodding, irrelevant anachronism of a bygone era. Their stories would come out hours, even a day after the events had been widely broadcasted on Twitter. And because so many people had the ability to witness and record events over such a wide area, the traditional news media was often under fire for missing key elements of a story or not getting the whole story.
But is the traditional media catching on or will it become a victim to the age of digital media?
Looking at the mainstream media’s reaction to the police killings of Ferguson resident Mike Brown, Staten Island resident Eric Garner and of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, among many others, it appears at least some in the media are hearing the message. But one thing has become clear over the past few years of citizen discontent: Their is very little public tolerance of any errors or omissions by reporters on the ground or the news organizations they represent. Mess up or miss a key part of a story and you will be called out at the very least. At the worst, you will be labelled part of the mainstream media bias towards police and those who hold power over them.
It is a difficult position for the media to be in. The role of the media is to deliver information in as factual a manner as possible. But people want more than that, they want the truth, as elusive and coloured by preconceptions as it may be.
It is no different here in Cornwall where we increasingly see stories unfolding on social media, leaving the traditional media to play catch up. But it is a dangerous game. A comment or accusation that might pass on social media could result in a court summons for the writer and publisher of a traditional newspaper if the information is deem defamatory.
Time and accuracy: That is the great divide between traditional newspapering and social media. What social media gains in timeliness, it loses in accuracy and objectivity. While traditional media must exercise due diligence in the reporting news, that in itself takes precious time — eons in the age of instantaneous information.
The question is, can traditional media find a middle ground where it can offer readers the best of both worlds, the near instantaneous delivery of information coupled with responsible, relevant journalism?
I think it can. But it will depend on the ability of individual media outlets and their corporate overlords to adapt and think outside the box.
The change is already happening in the U.S. There is still a steep learning curve, but I think it is happening in Cornwall’s competitive media market as well.
Greg Kielec is a career reporter and newspaper editor with more than 25 years experience covering municipal politics in Cornwall in the surrounding area. He most recently worked for The/Le Journal, where he covered Cornwall City Hall and the Waterfront Development Committee extensively. Prior to that he spent more than 10 years at the Standard-Freeholder in Cornwall as reporter, wire editor and assistant city editor.