Social media is changing where and how news is distributed

Credit: Creative Commons. Newspaper and phone.

For more than 50 years, Americans primarily got their news from newspapers, radio or television. Now a fourth option, the internet, is increasingly being used by Americans. However, Americans are not just going to the online versions of traditional media outlets, they are going to social media.

According to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 46 percent of Americans say they get their news from social media platforms. Of those 46 percent, nearly half of them use Facebook to gather their news, and in 2016, a Pew Research survey reported that 62 percent of U.S. adults get at least some of their news from social media.

Credit: Pew Research Center. Percentage of Americans who get news on social media.

“The use of sites like Twitter and Facebook is rapidly changing how journalism is done,” Craig Whitney, a former editor at the New York Times said.

Facebook continues to be the most popular social media platform for news amongst all Americans, as 66 percent of Facebook users say they get their news from Facebook, according to Pew.

Credit: Pew Research Center. Social Media News Consumption.

In response to the trend, some organizations are changing how they label their content to avoid confusion.

“We have become more conscious of how people see our stories,” said Terri Rupar, Digital Projects Editor at the Washington Post. “We’ve added ‘perspective,’ ‘opinion’ and ‘analysis’ labels on our work, so readers know what they’re getting.”

Fake News

With the recent prevalence of “fake news,” ensuring that readers know what they’re getting is crucial. According to the Journal of Economic Perspectives, during the 2016 election cycle, the most popular fake news stories were more widely shared on Facebook than the popular mainstream news stories. Additionally, many people who saw fake news articles believed them.

“Social media can create bubbles where people aren’t seeing anything other than what they agree with,” Whitney said.

One reason why fake news stories are believable is that those viewing them are likely to be less educated. About a third of Americans with a high school degree reported often getting their news digitally, up from 25 percent in 2016, according to Pew Senior Researcher Jeffrey Gottfried.

“While the data do not speak to why we see this pattern, this is consistent with other data showing that increases in digital news consumption are concentrated more so among the less educated,” Gottfried said.

Some people have argued that the dominance of social media has created a broken news cycle that places too much emphasis on non-newsworthy items, but Rupar believes the Post just has to be more aware of how people view their content.

“It hasn’t changed our sense of what’s news as much as made us think of the whole package and how people come to it – so the headline and the image that show up on Facebook are key, for example,” she said.

“While the data do not speak to why we see this pattern, this is consistent with other data showing that increases in digital news consumption are concentrated more so among the less educated,”

The primary role of journalism is to inform consumers, and some people, including Whitney, believe print is still the best way to do that.

“When you read something in the paper, you really have to think about what you’re reading,” Whitney said. “On social media and television, there are plenty of other things to distract you.”

Rupar agrees that the reader has more of a job to do, by weeding through all the information that is thrown at them.

“It may be fair to say more of the burden falls on the consumer that it used to, but the internet has allowed more voices to be surfaced,” she said.


Because journalism is funded by advertising, it appears that more content will move online. According to the Pew State of the Media Report in 2016, digital ad revenue went up 20 percent in 2015, while newspaper ad revenue declined 8 percent.

Credit: Pew Research Center. Advertising Revenue.

“I think in the future content is going to be condensed even more, as more video takes over,” Whitney said. “My advice to a young journalist would be to learn to use all the platforms.”

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