Can We End The Social Vs Mainstream Media Debates Now Please?

  • Author: Quinton
  • Quinton O'Reilly,

Every time a major event happens, the same thing happens. Story breaks on Twitter, people retweet it and then the many media organisations are lambasted for taking 20-30 mins to report on it and then the debate of how mainstream media is dying because of how slow it is.

This debate happens every single time and the Boeing 777 plane crash on Saturday was the latest example of this. But why is there an "us versus them" debate every time traditional and new media is compared? Especially since neither is perfect by any means. True, daily newspapers are suffering because of falling advertising, but for other mediums like weekly newspapers, magazines, radio and TV, why are we still talking about them as if they're in direct conflict with social?

The Wrong Question

The question that should be asked isn't which is better, but which one best suits the way you consume media? Both mediums have their own strengths and weaknesses and instead of pitting both against each other, why can't we appreciate both for what they are?

For one, Twitter is fantastic for breaking a news story, but as soon as it does that, it suffers from a noise overload. Once you establish the main crux of a story, trying to get more details on it is hindered by users are retweeting rumours, speculation, and info that hasn't been verified.  

Granted, traditional media is slower, but you're almost guaranteed that the information provided is going to be verified. That's the price you pay for ensuring that all information is verified. Its aim should be to give people a comprehensive view of the events that happened and analyse what comes next since it's not going to match the immediate nature of its social counterparts.

And that's what everything boils down to. Both mediums are useless without a way to verify what's being said and everything that's reported, speculated, and mentioned has to be treated with a hint of skepticism. While verification is getting better and better thanks to organisations like Storyful, the fact is that doing so takes time and even if you've retweeted something and it turns out it was correct, chances are you were just lucky.

The below tweet was from Samsung executive David Eun was valid because (a) he was on the flight (b) he's well known so he has no real reason to lie or exaggerate what happened and (c) he took photos to confirm what happened. The majority of tweets relating to the event didn't have any of these elements but that didn't stop false information quickly spreading.

For every true fact mentioned, there's at least ten other tweets that are photoshopped or hearsay. Verification takes time and effort and since we haven't developed a system that can immediately identify a valid post or not, we still have to rely on human judgement.

There are elements that tell you whether a person is telling the truth or not (location, imagery, reputation, etc.), but ultimately it takes time for something to be verified and then reported upon. Everyone likes immediate updates and seeing a story unfold - just look at 24 hour news stations - but an unfiltered ecosystem like social can make it difficult to differentiate between fact and speculation.

Both are shaping the current media landscape and how we consume and verify news in ten years time could be vastly different to what we experience now, and both will play a major role in shaping it.