It has been a long hard break up, but millennials have finally washed their hands of the giant news corporations. The information age has blown away the cobwebs, and unprecedented access to data, facts, and disparate points of view have instilled a more investigatory approach to news gathering in young people. As a consequence, 88 percent of this generation “sometimes or never” trust the news, according to the Washington Post.
The British Royal Wedding, the death of Osama Bin Laden and Newt Gingrich running for president are some of the many mainstream news items that broke on social media. This goes to show that social media platforms are facilitating the trend towards the production and mass consumption of user-generated content (UGC). Major networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are trying to break into the news vertical to add value to their user base.
What’s behind this dramatic shift? And what does the future hold for news media?
Bias, inaccuracy and deliberate misinformation
It seems that young people around the world have less faith in the mainstream media as time goes on, and it comes as no surprise. In a damning report from the Ethical Journalism Network, the media all around the world was roundly criticized for its coverage of the refugee crisis in Europe.
The transparent use and spin of global events by politicians for political advantage is affecting the quality and—more importantly—the objectivity of reporting. In the U.S. media, the Watchdog said:
In the United States, media has helped make the migrant and refugee issue an explosive topic in debates between Republican Party candidates for the presidency. Media time has focused on heated and often racist exchanges. This has obscured much of the good reporting in some media that provides much-needed context.
Speaking on the topic of accuracy in the media, the BBC’s John Darvall went as far as to say, “I am ashamed to be a journalist.” This came in a blog post after an inaccurate report about the death of his daughter was published, understandably causing a lot of pain and anguish to his family.
He went on to write:
This week TV and newspapers have proven to me why they are not the future of news. If they can’t even get their facts right, be trusted with clear information and then report it accurately, is it any wonder that we are all turning to Facebook, Twitter and other internet sources for our news and information?
It’s not just inaccuracy and political bias that are damaging the reputation of mainstream news networks, however. It’s the deliberate misinformation from supposedly trustworthy outlets. Fox News recently came under fire from the public and media in the U.K. after a so-called expert claimed that Birmingham, the country’s second largest city, was under Sharia law and effectively a no-go area for non-Muslims. Of course, this caused outrage among British muslims, residents of the city, and people across the U.K., forcing an apology from the network.
As individual incidents, they mean very little, but they are just a fraction of the big picture. Collectively they engender huge amounts of mistrust and skepticism — and now 50 percent of this generation trust user generated content over traditional media.
The dramatic shift towards crowdsourced news sources and UGC
Facebook’s Safety Check, which came in the wake of the 2011 Tsunami and Nuclear disaster in Japan, recognizes the fact that people turn first to social media when they need news of their friends and to make sure they are safe.
However, it’s not simply personal information sharing that is driving this new paradigm. Although television remains the number one source of news across the world, online channels (social media and news sites) have a large share of the market. In the United States, 74 percent of people use online sources, in the U.K. 73 percent, in Brazil 91 percent and in Finland and Denmark, 90 and 85 percent respectively, according to a Digital News Report Survey.
The watershed moment for user-generated eyewitness photography came way back in 2009, when Janis Krums captured a compelling image of a plane moments after it had crashed and landed into the Hudson river. Soon after, Twitter allowed users to post photos directly, and UGC and eyewitness news became the norm.
Advances in mobile technology meant that breaking news can come from on the ground and from the people rather than a journalistic source. For example, after typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, Micronesia and Vietnam in 2013, the public took it upon themselves to upload images, information and news during the cleanup and relief operations. Approximately 111,600 tweets were sent during the period from Nov. 7 to Nov. 11, according to the Statistical Journal of the IAOS.
It’s a natural progression: now that individuals can use hashtags as convenient public broadcasting channels on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other sites.
The future of news
We can already see, with Snapchat’s move towards the news vertical, that social platforms are becoming legitimate news sources. The vanishing photo platform’s Discover feature lets editorial teams upload stories that put “the narrative first.”
The facility garnered significant media attention from outlets such as Fortune, which described the results of the new service as being “fascinating and/or disturbing” and pointed to Snapchat story coverage of the San Bernardino mass shooting as bringing the platform’s breaking news offering into the mainstream.
Other platforms are taking a different approach to crowdsourced news. Newzulu International is an online news service that publishes stories from just about anyone—from professional reporters to “citizen journalists.” With more than 100,000 contributors, the service publishes photos, videos and articles and verifies them with an editorial team. Contributors are remunerated for their work if it is purchased by one of the network’s news outlets.
And thliis is where we are headed. There are 7 bilon people on the planet. As connectivity improves and more and more rely on smartphones, our news network will grow and grow. Real-time, on the ground news that comes directly from the people who are affected is more compelling and trustworthy than carefully constructed news reports and editorials. Where TV stations are slow to react and newspapers are a day late, people want their information here and now. We’re just waiting now for an app, platform or website that puts crowdsourced news on the map forever.
Sonny Tosco is the CEO of Limelight, a mobile app that connects users through the exchange of real-time media. Using the app, users are able to request photos from any user on the map to see what’s happening now.