North Korea has successfully tested another long-range missile, Isaiah Thomas has been traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and a giraffe you’ve been watching for months has finally given birth. Ten minutes into your day, and you’re already caught up with the latest headlines. All it took was reaching for that cellphone, tablet or laptop inches away on your nightstand. This is today’s new normal where the days of making the ‘trek’ outside to grab an inky newspaper are numbered.
The ever-changing social media landscape has largely contributed to the dominant news consumption trends over the last decade. Popular news websites and applications routinely used and visited today were created a mere five years ago – while news giants like NBC and ABC have been kicking around since the early 1940s. Take The Skimm for example. The media company was founded in 2012 and currently has over 4 million subscribers. Its daily email newsletter covers both foreign and domestic news in short, concise summaries – skimming the news so you don’t have to.
Image messaging powerhouse, Snapchat, has also forced traditional news media companies to reinvent themselves, or risk losing significant niche viewer populations. In order to counteract losing millennials, news veteran NBC launched twice daily news segments on Snapchat last month. The objective is to lower the company’s average viewership age of 64 and take advantage of the average 18 times a day young users visit Snapchat.
In addition to The Skimm and Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube continue to shape news consumption with a “see it to believe it” mentality. News consumers don’t want to read about Hurricane Harvey cleanup efforts or Domino’s testing self-driving pizza delivery. They want to see the images of sons reuniting with fathers they didn’t know survived the hurricane and video mock-ups of what a self-driving car might look like. Consumer reliance on visualization explains why most print media companies moved to digital offerings and why news is easier to consume and share because of social media. Didn’t care that the Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant with her third child? Too bad. Chances are someone you know shared it on one of the several social media platforms you use to stay current.
The delivery of quick news and visualization aided by social media has also forced viewers to consume more than they typically would. Take last month’s eclipse. Total solar eclipses occur every 2-3 years. But the social media numbers that rolled in post-eclipse would make one believe that such an event hasn’t happened for hundreds of years. NASA reported that over 40 million people watched the live-stream on NASA’s website and the content being circulated across their social media channels. Again, with this visually aggressive but concise style of news consumption, everyone was a part of the conversation, whether they wanted to be or not. A decade ago an eclipse was a scientific event, plain and simple. Now it’s a chance to share the best Snapchat or Instagram photo, and an opportunity to post the best time-lapse video to Facebook.
News fueled by social media has generated more hype around people, places and events than it historically could have. Five years from now, it’s conceivable that the apps and sites we’ve equipped ourselves with to stay up to date may become irrelevant and replaced with sharper, more complex tools. I know there are mixed feelings about this current trend of media consumption. I too am concerned that I needed to stop and read the Tweet about how much Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are paying their surrogate to carry their third child. As insignificant as the news is to me, I couldn’t afford to go into work not knowing about it. What if people were talking about it?
But on the other hand, I can thank this social media news trend for my ability to now have an intelligent and confident conversation about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and what’s in store for the future of America’s immigration policies. Although we experience a decreased control over what news we are presented with, we still have the power to decide what will make us think, act and debate.