The Nieman Journalism Lab has been posting a number of great forecasts — both serious and funny — for the future of media in 2015, and I encourage you to read them all. But one in particular that struck home for me was the one that Guardian US finance editor Heidi Moore wrote: it’s not so much a forecast for the future as a lament for the present, and a concern about where we are going by focusing so much of our efforts on a few large platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Moore talks about how excited journalists get when their stories are shared on these networks, or get lots of “likes” and “favorites,” because we all know that this is a big part of how content gets discovered now — through social connections and algorithmic curation. But some of that joy rings a little hollow, she says:
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”While these platforms are indispensable to us as newsgatherers and as distributors, they also have their limits. Facebook, Twitter, and several other social media platforms form an echo chamber for the media savvy: the ones who are news addicted, tuned in, apped up.”[/blockquote]
But there are other readers — or at least potential readers — who don’t make themselves quite as obvious, Moore points out. They don’t friend or follow us, and they don’t get real-time alerts or immediately download the latest app. “She watches cable news but finds Facebook tiresome and Twitter exhausting, and only goes to Google when there’s an enormous news event like the Malaysian plane or the Boston bombings.” How do we reach those people?
What of the non-digital?
Nieman Lab editor Josh Benton got into this a bit in a column for Nieman Reports, about how we need to think more about the average news consumer’s experience — not just the experience of real-time addicted Twitter and Facebook denizens like ourselves. What kinds of news interfaces or relationships or features might they be looking for from their media? Benton mentions about a comment by TV critic Emily Nussbaum in which she wondered why people watch TV news:
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”It’s also a useful reminder that journalists and their audiences often value different things in the news they consume. What Nussbaum considers unpleasant others will take as friendly and energetic. What she considers substantive and considered — say, a long New Yorker profile — others might take as dry and long-winded. And that gap applies both to the content of news and to the user experience it offers.”[/blockquote]
It may not seem related, but the concerns that Moore and Benton have are part of the reason why I feel so strongly about news sites such as Re/code and Reuters and The Week (and now Mic) dropping their comment sections in favor of Facebook and Twitter. Where does that leave readers who aren’t on those networks, or don’t want to join them, or don’t want to have their comments follow them? They are lost.
There’s another issue, as Moore points out, and that is the potential hostility — or perhaps just indifference — of those platforms to the media and news business. Facebook will tweak its algorithms in whatever way it wants, regardless of what content it hides as a result, and Twitter is becoming increasingly algorithm-driven as well. Google was algorithm-driven before it was cool. How does that affect the way people get their news and information, and thereby society?
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”Facebook, Twitter, and Google are three major sources of traffic that are opt-in for readers. But what about the readers who haven’t opted in to the constant news cycle? How do we serve them? How do we even reach them? They’re on the web, but not where we can see them. That’s why whenever we see a story that has 100,000 or 300,000 views or more, we should wonder: Where are the readers we’re not seeing?”[/blockquote]