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Social Media and News…What’s the Connection?

The news media must change toward a more social media-friendly platform if it wants to maintain and grow a younger audience, news editors from across the country said Wednesday at their national convention.

“People visit their Facebook page 30 more times than visiting a news site,” said Chris Peck, assistant editor of The Ranger in Riverton, Wyoming, who moderated a panel discussion on news literacy at the final day of the American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Media Editors conference at Hyatt Regency Chicago.

Peck and two other panelists used coverage of the recent shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown to illustrate the role social media played in disseminating information about what became a national news story. Developments in Ferguson, Missouri were followed on Twitter by more than 3.5 million people just five days after the unrest began, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Peck referred to Antonio French, a twitter journalist covering the civil disturbance.

“One hundred and fourteen thousand [followers] is a significant body of people who were and continue to be getting information about Ferguson from a source that was very different from the traditional news media,” Peck said.

August 15 protests in Ferguson. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
August 15 protests in Ferguson. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This shift in news gathering leaves many concerned that the speed and immediacy of social media can endanger its credibility and perspective.

The panel included Robert R. McCormick Foundation Program Director Clark Bell. “Social media is a tremendous tool for communication…it needs to be used responsibly,” he said.

“News and information tends to be provisional,” said Alan C. Miller, president and CEO of News Literacy Project. “All news sources may not be credible and it may take time before an entire, true image emerges.”

Social media, although used primarily by teens, is also used by many adults.

“[Social Media] is an ongoing part of, not only the news that we disseminate, but also that we engage [in] through our community,” said Bill Church, executive editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group in Sarasota, Florida. “If news organizations don’t get out of their comfort bubble, they’re not going to survive, that bubble is going to burst.”

Church, who didn’t hesitate to give his Twitter handle at the end of an interview, attended the entire three-day conference.

As for Chicago, the News Literacy Project is working with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation of Chicago to further promote news literacy through multiple roundtable events. According to Miller, these events are just being launched; however, they are working closely with Chicago Public Schools to see “news literacy embedded widely.”

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