Pathways to news
By Dr Perri Campbell
The rise of social media and its impact on news media industries has been making headlines for a number of years.
Social media is tipped to transform the newspaper industry.
If searching for news was the most important development of the past decade, sharing news may be among the most important of the next, says the Pew Research Centre.
Today, debates about the impact of social media on the news industry rage on most recently provoked by proposed staff cuts and restructuring at both Fairfax and News Ltd in Australia.
Some claim that the struggle of newspapers can be correlated with the downturn in the economy and the global financial crisis.
Others add in the impact of loss of revenue through dips in advertising and a competitive market. Brian Stelter for the New York Times wonders if this is a sign of the (technologically mediated) times: "The papers seemed not to be diversifying their revenue streams or coming up with innovative products at a fast enough clip".
Business magnate Warren Buffet with 63 newspapers under his care has his own ideas about what is going on: "The original instinct of newspapers was to offer free in digital form what they were charging for in print. This is an unsustainable model and certain of our papers are already making progress in moving to something that makes more sense".
Amid the chaos, one question is being asked: Does the rise of social media mean the demise of the newspaper business?
Are people like me who trawl digital spaces for news and other stories responsible for the death of newspapers? Research from the Pew Centre's Project for Excellence in Journalism claims that Facebook and Twitter are really pathways to news.
Their role may not be as large as some have suggested.
The number of people accessing social media for news is a relatively small. Nine per cent of digital news consumers follow news recommendations from Facebook or Twitter, compared with 36 per cent of people who often go directly to news organisations.
A third of people get their news from online searches, while 29 per cent turn to some sort of news site or app. In other words, social media are additional paths to news, not replacements for more traditional ones.
It seems that online environments are just one space in which people engage in the art of downloading information.
For some, the real thing newspapers and magazines offer a different experience, one that has been romanticised (as part of a routine breakfast), complete with tactile and other sensory endearments.
If information on a screen is not the same as news in paper, what does social media offer that newspapers can't?
Blogs, tweets, Facebook timelines and updates capture personalised hyperlinked stories/images/videos.
These are our stories.
As blogs and tweets relay unfolding information and events, perhaps it is not only newspapers that are transformed but the meaning of news itself?
Dr Perri Campbell is a Research Fellow at ADRI.