Imagine the following scenario: You’re a club leader organizing a protest. You have an issue you care passionately about, and you’re gathering like-minded students to make a public display complete with rehearsed chants and picket signs. The event is coming up soon, and you have to make an important choice. You’re not going to get anywhere with this social activism unless you make some widespread noise about the event. You have to decide how you’re going to do that.
Are you going to post on social media? Ask your fellow protesters to post on Facebook and Twitter?
Alternatively, you could look to the traditional news media resources to spread your vision. The school paper shot you an email weeks in advance, the moment they heard about the protest, and they want to do a sit-down interview with you. You know they’re going to ask the tough questions, because they have an obligation to get both sides of the story. You’ll need to be very prepared, and a slip of the tongue or a question you answer poorly will get blasted to the entire school. This interview could be tough, and if you fail, it might hurt your cause more than it helps.
This is the question that Penn students and public figures around the globe are starting to face when it comes to traditional news. Before technology made it easy for everyone to broadcast their vision to the world, traditional media was the only option. If a club leader, activist or public figure didn’t talk to a reporter, their story didn’t get told.
Now, a new generation has access to tools for spreading a message that gives them total control over its content. If movements have a strong network of supporters behind them to spread the word over social media, they might even have greater access to the eyeballs of the general public than they ever could have through traditional media.
Still, the incentive to turn away from the reporter’s microphone runs a lot deeper than that. With more competition than ever, traditional news outlets are becoming more inflammatory, more ideologically stratified and more aggressive than ever.
The modern interview is often a hunt for the smackdown. In response, subjects are often turning away from traditional media. Activists look for resources where they can get tight control of their messaging, and the media old guard is being left in the dust.
We’re starting to enter the age of “no comment.”
This is the flip side of the current struggle of traditional newspapers. Not only are consumers turning to other sources for news, but subjects no longer need traditional news as much as before to spread their vision.
On the national stage, Hillary Clinton has shied away from the press conference, not having held one in over half a year. Donald Trump has mastered the tweet and has gained more visibility from his incendiary and compelling social media style than he ever possibly could from his television appearances. And locally, student activists and leaders are increasingly turning away from print media in favor of the new media approach of public relations.
Here we have to address the elephant in the room: I’m criticizing newspapers in a column being published in a newspaper. But there’s a good reason I’m publishing here and not a random blog, and that reason is central to this entire discussion.
Newspapers hold themselves to a certain standard of rigor, and it lends them inherent credibility that social media will never be able to emulate.
Even as “official” news struggles, it is still a critical resource for discovering the truth. But it’s not the only resource, and we have to look to diversify our informational diet with the social media voices that we gather from the ground. We’re going to have to be more than well read, we’ll need the cultural competence to gather knowledge from old and new media alike.
And finally, we have to accept that change is healthy. The sooner we adapt to change, both on the reading and reporting side, the smarter we’ll be.
Aaron Cooper is a College freshman from Morristown, NJ, studying cognitive science. His email address is . “Aanarchy” usually appears every other Tuesday.Comments powered by Disqus
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