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.

  • http://www.response-link.co.uk Matt Lee

    Is there such a thing as ‘Good Journalism’?

    Journalists are to blame for their own downfall.

  • http://powerisastateofmind.blogspot.com/ Matt

    I don’t think it’s the fact that journalism is bad that has caused its “downfall”, Matt. The Sun is still the UK’s leading paper, and it’s dogshit. It’s the fact that we all have access to the internet wherever we go, and the papers themselves- and other media outlets like the BBC- are offering us what we need to know for free online. And there’s no going back from this.

  • http://www.simonecastello.co.uk simone

    The downfall of journalism is that in the past journalists were paid decent wages but at some point those wages stalled – when I started it seemed daily rates were good, trouble is that I was paid the same ten years later.

    Pay a decent wage and I will revert to journalism. Most of my income come from digital writing now, mostly marketing.

    Don’t diss the Sun either, very clever people work there with Oxbridge degrees, they are just giving readers what they want. Most people don’t want highbrow stuff, if they did it would easy peasy to launch a high quality product. As it is even broadsheets are dumbing down…

    And it’s not my view, most of the senior journos I know are now working for corporate clients, which pay better wages and appreciate quality. And if you think that journalists are here to educate the masses, that is a patronizing attitude. I know it’s hard to stomach but people want celebrity gossip and weird human interest stories. If you want to be highbrow and get brain kicks, I’d suggest you become an academic.

  • Paul

    There is a huge assumption that all print journalism is truthful and correct. But so much of what our newspapers serve up to us is opinion these days, even in the news! I don’t believe that newspapers offer us anything unique or special that we can’t get via social media channels. It’s about time we stopped wasting all that paper but publishers refuse to let go…

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  • http://Www.artisanmc.co.uk Manchester PR

    Mmmm not sure I buy most of that, dailies are making money online, the Mail & Sun are still popular & profitable, the Guardian has been losing money for years

    Social media is changing things but it will not change everything

    Change happens all the time it does not have to be feared all the time though

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