The Speed of Culture Podcast: Behind the Screens of Social Media

The Washington Post's Taylor Lorenz on the transformation of journalism in the digital era

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Many books discuss the history of platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, but there’s a lot more to the social media story. Taylor Lorenz, technology columnist at The Washington Post, decided to reveal it all.

Her book, Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence and Power on the Internet, gives a unique user’s view of how the internet has changed us. She looks at how top users on social platforms have transformed how we view content, connect with others, shop, and understand power.

In the latest episode of The Speed of Culture podcast Lorenz joins Suzy founder and CEO Matt Britton to discuss the rise of the modern personality driven media landscape and the transformation of journalism in the digital era, sharing her views on today’s leading social media platforms.

Take a deep dive into the real social history of the internet by exploring the key takeaways from this episode below.

Key highlights:

  • 02:21 – 07:36 – The new media reality: The media landscape is rapidly changing, with Bill Simmons serving as a prime example. Once associated with ESPN, Simmons later established himself as a major sports podcaster and eventually sold his venture to Spotify. This highlights the power of personal branding. Historically, journalism has been driven by iconic figures like Woodward, Bernstein and Anderson Cooper. Today, the internet has made personal branding essential for most journalists, highlighting the media industry’s move toward a personality centric model.
  • 07:36 – 08:59 – Independent journalism in the digital age: Over the last 15 years, the social web has transformed the journalism landscape. Although many anticipated that digital media giants like BuzzFeed and Vice would drive this change, it’s the emergence of content creators that has had a substantial influence. However, individual journalists in this digital landscape encounter challenges, like access to resources and legal protection that traditional institutions possess. This gap often hinders them from conducting in-depth reporting.
  • 12:02 – 14:08 – Could AI take the role of a journalist?: Companies are increasingly using AI to produce content. While it has a lot of potential as a creative tool, AI’s reliability is still questionable. Moreover, its impact on content creation raises concerns about job displacement. True journalism involves in-depth reporting, interviews and obtaining documents, tasks AI can’t replace. However, routine articles, like listing upcoming movies, could be automated. AI-generated content must be overseen by human editors to ensure quality and prevent misinformation. Transparency is also essential; readers should know if they’re consuming machine-generated content.
  • 14:45 – 17:36 – A user’s perspective on the history of social media from: Lorenz’s book, Extremely Online: The Untold Story of Fame, Influence, and Power on the Internet, offers an alternative history of social media. While historically grounded, the book also touches on recent developments, like the internet’s evolution from a publisher-driven space in 2000, to the more participatory Web 2.0 era in 2014. Highlighting key moments, Lorenz explores the disruptive power of “mommy bloggers,” the emergence of YouTuber content houses and the significant rise and impact of Vine.