(Screen shot taken this morning from cbc.ca)
I feel this reflects the way that conventional media is failing us these days. With a mother who studied journalism and a longstanding adoration of Peter Mansbridge, I of all people have heard the many arguments as to why we still need regulated press from news corporations. I agree with that: expert journalists need to bring us the most relevant facts, which they have painstakingly investigated (because that’s their job and random bloggers or independent media makers don’t always have the time/money to do such thorough investigations) and the facts need to be presented in a logical, straightforward manner. No disagreements there; let the people do their jobs – but if only they would…
Yesterday I was talking to someone about something completely unrelated when he turned to me and said, “Did you hear about this Kony thing?”
I blinked and said, “What? No? What’s ‘Kony’?”
“Kony 2012, the Invisible Children documentary, it’s all over Twitter, it’s all over the Internet.”
Admittedly, I’ve dropped out of the web-o-sphere this week due to a lot of other things going on and so I hadn’t heard one thing about this. I thought ‘Kony’ could be a guy making creepy documentaries about ghost children who were invisible… Well, I didn’t know what I thought, my acquaintance hadn’t explained it very much and I was on to tackling other things.
This morning the topic popped back into my consciousness. I wanted the full story so I thought I’d go to a news website rather than simply check my Twitter and Facebook. There was nothing on the front page of CBC and then, when I clicked “World”, the display you see above is what I received. Really? Some little ‘Point of View’ piece by the ‘Community Team’ for something that’s on the tip of people’s tongues, something they just have to burst into conversation about?
The funny thing is that the article framed the story as though it was news that this video was trending on Twitter – kind of a “oh that’s cute, look at all the people posting about the same thing” mentality. But in reality, it was/is trending on Twitter because it is news.
News is what people are talking about. It’s what they’re interested in; it’s what is relevant to their lives right now. Critics might say it’s ‘not news’ if they broadcast something about celebrities all over the front page – all that comes to mind right now is Janet Jackson’s wardrobe failure from a few years back (which is still a thing) – but it IS news because it’s exactly what people are preoccupied with around the water cooler. It affects us in some way (don’t even let me get into a sociological analysis of the reaction to Janet’s little mishap). The more crucial/interesting/controversial/relevant something is, the more we talk about it. That’s why the Kony topic accrued even greater popularity than some of the regular celebrity babble that usually dominates the trending topics on Twitter.
Social media is just another way to talk about something. It’s a way to display and express what is at the forefront of your mind. If the conventional press takes a whole day to jump on board and begin giving us more well rounded articles about the situation (which CBC has now done; the Point of View piece has been replaced with this), it’s just too late in this day and age. We have already talked it to death and formed our own opinions, without or without their expertly investigated facts, which could have been pretty useful given the controversy I’m hearing over the actual video.
The conventional press must find a way to use their professionals to deliver quality stories in a much faster manner – otherwise the formal news will no longer be useful as a tool to inform the population as events are happening but rather will become simply a source of retrospective analysis after the fact just as we are all moving on to the next big thing.* The first step large media corporations can take toward redeeming themselves as true conveyors of news is to begin paying attention to social media and realizing that if people are talking about something, they had better get on it.
* I would be alright with this alternative. I believe there are enough reputable independent bloggers and smaller media corporations (who often tweet) to reliably alert the public when something is going on. It’s quite possible that in the near future journalism as a profession may need to stay alive by focusing on the in-depth analysis of events. In a global society that can connect across distances instantaneously, it seems that we can leave the capturing and announcement of ‘breaking news’ to the people at the scene of the action while still having a need for experts to supply an understanding of the larger context and overarching impact of newsworthy events.