The News According To Twitter And Facebook

Felix Salmon declares that the two social media companies “have become the new indispensable [news] bundles — and in doing so have changed the nature of what news is”:

The new dominance of social media in the news business is not depressing at all: it’s excellent news. Just as most news consumers were never avid enough to seek out blogs, most Americans were never avid enough to seek out news at all. They didn’t buy newspapers; they didn’t watch the nightly news on TV; it just wasn’t something which interested them.

But now the news comes at them directly, from their friends, which means that the total news audience has grown massively, even just within the relatively stagnant US population.

Globally, of course, it’s growing faster still — the ubiquitous smartphone is a worldwide phenomenon.We’re at an excitingly early stage in working out how to best produce and provide news in a social world. There are lots of business models that might work; there are also editorial models that look like they work until they don’t. But if you look at the news business as a whole, rather than at individual companies, it’s almost impossible not to be incredibly optimistic. Media used to be carved up along geographic grounds, because of the physical limitations of distributing newspapers or broadcasting TV signals. Now, there are thousands of communities and interest groups that gather together on Twitter and Facebook and share news with each other, which means there are thousands of new ways to build an audience…

One journalist recently told me that it has changed more in the past eight months than it changed in the previous five years, and I think he’s right about that.

Gorby agrees that the audience for news is growing rapidly and believes that this is “a fantastic business opportunity.” But Derek Thompson examines research on what is actually being shared on Facebook. It mostly isn’t news:

Independent studies of virality conducted out of Wharton, the National Science Foundation, and the University of South Australia have all reached the same conclusion. The stories and videos most likely to be shared, emailed, and posted on Facebook aren’t necessarily the newest stories, but they are the most evocative. The most famous of these studies, by University of Pennsylvania professors Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman, concluded that online stories producing “high-arousal emotions” were more viral, whether those emotions were positive (e.g.: happiness and awe) or negative (e.g.: anger or anxiety).

The News Feed is perhaps the world’s most sophisticated mirror of its readers’ preferences—and it’s fairly clear that news isn’t one of them. We simply prefer stories that fulfill the very purpose of Facebook’s machine-learning algorithm, to show us a reflection of the person we’d like to be, to make us feel, to make us smile, and, most simply, to remind us of ourselves.

Yes, but that just suggests that the entire model of “news” – in which nothing that isn’t new should be part of journalism – is archaic. There is nothing new today that cannot be better understood without reference to yesterday. And now that we have an entire universe of content to use, mashup, recreate, re-tell and re-purpose, our task is to provide something actually new: a conversation about the world that brings past, present and future into a platform that engages our hearts as well as our minds. It’s what we find ourselves doing at the Dish every day. And it is empowered by the passion and loyalty of the Dish community, but also, increasingly, by Facebook and Twitter – as our readers reach out to new readers and they reach back to us.