Social media now crucial to how Americans get their news


Published: Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 5:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 5:31 p.m.

One of Meg Wagner’s favorite childhood memories was receiving The Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times at her front door.

As a child, Wagner loved newspapers and knew she wanted to be a print journalist.

However, everything changed in 2010. Wagner started getting news from Twitter and decided to embrace digital media.

Today, Wagner is a University of Florida journalism senior, as well as the breaking news editor for NBC News. Wagner’s job entails aggregating wire news stories and releasing them via Twitter, Facebook and Breakingnews.com.

“Twitter and Facebook give you news in short blurbs,” Wagner, 21, said. “I think that caters to younger audiences who don’t have the time or appreciation for reading long-form journalism.”

According to the Pew Research Center’s The State of the News Media 2012 report, the rise in social media has definitely created new avenues for news consumption. The report states that 52 percent of digital news consumers “get at least some news from one of these two leading social networks.” As a research associate for the Project for Excellence in Journalism department, Jesse Holcomb has his hand on the pulse of media trends.

“This is the result of news organizations trying to meet potential news consumers where they’re spending more and more of their time,” said Holcomb, 32. “In general, the news industry is doing what they can to try to innovate in the space. But historically, legacy and traditional news organizations have been a little bit slow to adapt.”

According the report, “Facebook users spent an average of 423 minutes each on the site in December.”

Holcomb said Pew conducted a 2011 study that analyzed how mainstream media outlets use Twitter. He said many major news organizations were using the platform simply as a way to connect readers to their content.

“What news consumers are looking for in social media is for a news organization to provide a service for them,” Holcomb said. “And part of that service might mean linking to other news organizations and sites that provide information that consumers find useful, not just trying to promote their own material.”

According to the State of the News Media report, 76 percent of Twitter news followers also use news organizations’ mobile apps and home pages “very or somewhat often.”

University of Florida microbiology junior David Pioquinto has been using Twitter since November 2011. He uses the platform to stay informed on everything from Gator basketball to national politicians.

Pioquinto also follows traditional news outlets like The New York Times, National Public Radio (NPR) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

“It’s complete personalization as to what you want news about,” said Pioquinto, 21. “It’s a really good way to get news, as well as socialize.”

Pioquinto said that Twitter has been his source for breaking news stories. Most notably, he received an NPR tweet from his phone when Pope Francis was announced as the new Pope.

“I think news just spreads a lot more quickly now,” Pioquinto said.

Pioquinto said he does not view a non-media outlet tweet the same way he views an article he reads from a publication like The New York Times, nor does he hold it to the same professional standards. He regularly verifies news he sees on Twitter by consulting traditional publications’ websites.

Eric Deggans works for a traditional publication. He is the TV and media critic for the Tampa Bay Times.

Deggans has been working for the Times since 1995. He currently writes for the Times TV and media blog, The Feed.

Deggans said there is a distinction between smaller-scale stories benefiting from a social media push and larger-scale stories that the Tampa Bay Times does not need to actively promote on social media platforms.

He recalled when the Times publicly endorsed Barack Obama during his last presidential run. Deggans said because the story had significant news value, the staff did not feel the need to promote the story on its social media platforms.

Conversely, Deggans mentioned an article on the other end of the spectrum: an entertainment news commentary piece regarding a new, controversial single from country singer Brad Paisley and rapper LL Cool J. The song was called “Accidental Racist.”

The story received 20 retweets, which was the most Deggans had received on a story within the past month. NPR special correspondent Michele Norris and Gwen Ifill, moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week” on PBS, were among those who retweeted Deggans’ blog post.

As an 18-year Times veteran, Deggans can recall the gradual shift toward digital and social media that the Times has undergone during his tenure. The publication began to build its online edition in the 1990s. In 2006, the Times began to incorporate blogs. The newspaper would later enter the social media realm.

“It’s naturally evolved as we try to figure out new ways to make money and get our content read,” Deggans said. “There’s a sense that stories are not just judged on their news value anymore. People also pay more attention to how much attention they get online and through social media.”

In spite of the changing news landscape, and its financial implications for journalists, Deggans notes the positive and negative effects of people getting their news from Facebook and Twitter.

“It means more opportunities for reporters and editors, more exciting ways to tell stories, more opportunities to reach the audience in new ways,” Deggans said. “But it also means it’s harder to make a living. We have fewer and fewer people consuming the product that makes us the most money.”

Bruce Floyd is the social media specialist in UF’s University Relations department. Floyd, 40, said it is because of the rise of social media that he attained his current position. He said before starting his job a year and a half ago, he worked for the university as a web developer.

“I let the public know about research breakthroughs and some of the interesting, beneficial things coming out of the university that we think our general audience would be interested in,” Floyd said.

Floyd said that while social media platforms are the means through which people get their news, the content is provided by journalists who investigate and report the stories.

“In my view, there’s always going to be a need for professional journalism,” Floyd said. “Although you have these studies that say people are getting their information from social media, if they’re getting correct information, they’re getting that information from journalists who are on social media.”

Floyd said Twitter also allows him to connect with journalists investigating news stories.

“I feel like this connection can also be of advantage to journalists,” Floyd said. “They can crowd source and determine what kind of information is important and what kind of stories that they write have the most traction.”

UF senior public relations major Brittany Brave said that social media platforms are an everyday fixture in the lives of news consumers.

Brave recalled a guest speaker in her public relations campaigns class asking students whether they thought Facebook would soon be irrelevant. The entire class said they believed Facebook would remain relevant to them.

“We use it for too many things,” Brave, 22, said. “We use it for life. We use it to work. We use it for news.”

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