News distribution: not a shoulder-shrugging topic

Sonia Ambrosio –
soniambrosio@gmail.com –

It is on Facebook, I saw it.” Oh well, if it is on FB it has to be true, or at least partially true. News has become a strong part of Facebook lately. Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have also all seen a growth of news accessed via smartphones. Of course, this has much to do with age, particularly those in the 18-24 age groups. Women and the young use social media as their main news sources and the process is quite simple: they tend to trust news posted by friends or someone they follow.
The growth of social media as a main source of news has seen Greece, Turkey and Brazil at the top of the list on Digital News Report, a research carried out by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Portugal, Hungary and Spain are in the second tier.
The 2016 report shows that, as news now comes to people through social media feeds, the need to go to news website is much less. This annual report, in its fifth edition, explores news consumption in the world and it is based on a survey of more than 50,000 people in 26 countries.
What does the trend mean to the news business? It means that traditional publishers and new digital players will have to change the ways in which news is packed and distributed. Not long ago, journalists and publishers — reluctantly — had to adapt to the Internet environment of news writing and publishing. Online news is now more important than television for those groups under 45, followed by news on television. The print is lagging far behind in the survey.
With news available on social platforms, the brand of a news organisation tends to be over sighted, then blurred, and finally forgotten. As one door opens, another closes.
The real scenario shows that newsrooms are losing control of how news gets distributed. More than that, newsrooms and publishers are losing access to their audiences as well as to the data that in the past was used for advertisement.
So, controlling distribution is a big part of the pie on why platforms are so lucrative now and why newspapers used to be in the past. There was a time when newspapers had the paperboys, selling the latest edition on street corners; then came the phase when newspapers were delivered door-to-door. It is painfully difficult to admit that newsrooms and publishers had forgotten to innovate.
But as we are creatures of habits, we will move on to opportunities and trends created. And let’s be honest, the social web has changed how journalists and news organisations produce news. A wide range of journalists now use smartphones to keep in touch with sources. In addition to social platforms, chat apps such as WhatsApp and WeChat are rapidly growing as sources of information. Social media news-gathering — for images, contacts, and eyewitnesses — is becoming the backbone of news reporting.
Emily Bell, from the University of Cambridge on a presentation on how Facebook Swallowed Journalism, has made a remark that is important but little-discussed: “We are handing the controls of important parts of our public and private lives to a very small number of people, who are unelected and unaccountable.” Willingly, we are providing information that can easily be monetised!
So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that social media companies have developed an interest in news. They have become powerful in controlling who publishes what to whom, and how. Tracking customers’ every move will make them bigger than governments. They will be the holders of data and the arbiters of mass behavioural changes.
But it is not only journalism that is paying a price for the changes. Social media is taking on political campaigns, personal lives, business, leisure, even government, and security. With the world’s population embracing smartphones and Internet costs falling, one just needs to a have an entrepreneurship frame of mind and some hope to hit the jackpot.