Is social media destroying good journalism?

A feeling of apocalyptic gloom pervaded the small conference room in Dalston library, as the torrential July rain hammered on the window panes, and a small group of us huddled together to contemplate the end of journalism as we know it

Well, sort of. This London Journalism Centre event, ‘Is social media destroying journalism?’, did throw up some pretty ghastly figures, and did little to reassure us that journalists, and PRs for that matter, can sleep easy and dream of the perpetual existence of newspapers as we know them.

Let’s face it, it’s hardly something we’re unfamiliar with – everyone knows that social media is here to stay – but many of us have failed to register that the rise of social networks and other online news sources will inevitably lead to a dramatic decline in print publications.

National newspapers are losing money, and fast. The Guardian lost £37 million last year alone, and the Independent suffered a massive 46.7% drop in print sales. One speaker, Wessel van Rensburg, founder of social media consultancy RAAK, quoted that nearly half of young people (43%) rely on social networks to find news. Despite this, advertisers are still spending vastly more on slots in the press than on advertising on the internet, TV and mobile.

Another speaker, Jonathan Frost, a budding journalist of Wannabe Hacks, added to the already grim picture with his argument that social media is leading to shamefully lazy journalism. He pointed to a laughable slip-up by the Daily Mail, which expended a vast amount of energy producing a story about Katie Price’s shocking economic insight into the Eurozone crisis. “OMG!! Eurozone debt problems can only be properly solved by true fiscal union!!! #comeonguys” she wrote. It turns out Snickers had paid her to send the tweet. Damn.

But enough with the negativity. Surely if Frost really thought that social media was causing the degeneration of quality journalism, he’d be making a swift dash for the JobCentre?

The reasons why he wasn’t were quickly brought out by the third speaker, former Guardian User Experience Lead Martin Belam. Belam made reference to the astute use of Twitter and Foursquare by the journalist Nicola Hughes, which within a matter of minutes enabled her to set up a live link with an eyewitness at a volcanic eruption.

Belam conceded that the decline of national newspapers has never been worse, but also admitted that it has never been easier to do good journalism. Van Rensburg also brought out the rise of the individual journalist over the rigid institution of the newspaper. As “authenticity” becomes a social media buzzword, the subjective insights of respected journalists are valued more than ever.

We can’t deny it: the end of print is nigh. This inevitably presents an immense challenge for many of us, particularly the journalists who are struggling to find a way to earn a living. One audience member did try to add a little perspective: “Should we be lamenting the decline of print any more than we did the decline of vinyl, or the VCR?” she asked. Hopefully not, if all we’re lamenting is the loss of print itself, rather than the quality journalism it’s associated with.

Lauren Arthur is a Consultant at Fishburn Hedges.