A New Type of News: How Social Media Might Save Journalism After All

Dec 05, 2013


I remember a time when my parents, who are now in their late 60s, would spend every morning sitting at our kitchen table drinking coffee and reading The New York Times. This was their routine. In fact, to this day, whenever I ask my mom if she's seen something on the news (most recently, the commuter train derailment in Bronx, NY), she'll say to me, "No, but I'll read about it tomorrow in the Times." Print journalism is how they've always gotten, and will continue to get, their news.

When I wake up in the morning, I don't pour my coffee and sit down to read the newspaper. I actually don't even sit down with my coffee until I get to work later in the morning. But when I do, I take a good 20 minutes to catch up on what's happening in the world, only instead of having The Times in front of me, I have a computer screen. Yes, I know. Times have changed. The fact that I don't read a newspaper isn't at all shocking. I read the news on websites like CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and so on, like many, many other people. Recently, though, something about the way I get my news has changed, and it's all because of Facebook.

Usually, I'll start my morning by popping over to Facebook and perusing my newsfeed, and then I'll switch to Twitter, and maybe even stop by Instagram for a few minutes. Only after that do I move on to a news site. In the past few weeks, though, I've found I don't even have the need to go to CNN or MSNBC (or even Twitter for that matter) because Facebook -- either through posts from friends or brands I've "liked" such as NPR or my local news station -- has been giving me all the news I need, and from sources I would have never checked myself such as the Huffington Post, Slate, and TMZ (don't laugh).

A few weeks back, I saw an article on Buzzfeed that explained how Facebook might be single handedly saving the publishing world. The title of the article was, "Facebook Drives Massive New Surge Of Traffic To Publishers: Can Mark Zuckerberg save the publishing industry?" The answer, I think, is a strong maybe.

As the article states, "According to data from the BuzzFeed Network - a collection of sites including more than 200 publishers such as The Huffington Post, TMZ, The Onion, and Slate, with more than 300 million users each month - traffic from Facebook referrals to partner network sites are up 69% from August to October of this year." It turns out that Facebook, in an attempt to compete with Twitter, has been purposely trying to position itself as a news source of sorts.

Why is this worth writing a column about? Because, just like RSS feeds took all the content someone could want and put it in one easy to access place, Facebook is gathering everything you could get from other news sites in one central destination. One stop shop for news! Whether or not Facebook is successful is an entirely different story. If I told my mom that I get a good chunk of my news from people posting on Facebook, she'd buy me a subscription to the Boston Globe for Christmas. For me, though, having all the major news stories along side the news stories from my friends just plain works. It's a winning combination, and Facebook seems to be taking notice.

After finding that, as reported in October, average referral traffic from Facebook to media sites has increased by over 170% --- almost tripled - in the past year, Facebook is now looking at the quality of the content they show their users. Not only is it bumping stories up to the top of your newsfeed if you're friends comment or like them, it is looking at ways to recommend articles that are similar to the ones you already like. This is great way to get millennials, those who spend the most time on social media, to come back to the dying art of journalism.  

Facebook is positioning itself to become the custom car of the social media market, made specifically for each user. We already know that all internet users, especially millennials, love being able to customize their online experience. Facebook is very smartly pandering to an audience of "need to know immediately" users. If it can find the balance between ease of use, quality of content, and quantity of that content, it very well may give worried publishers the boost they so badly need.