Don’t allow “likes” to outshine the need for real journalism

Op-Ed

By David Baxley, SPJ South Carolina member and Assistant Professor of Mass Communications, Francis Marion University

Local news artIt’s no secret — the habits of news consumers continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Technology has forced news organizations to be creative and seek out ways to draw-in more consumers through various platforms. The challenge continues to be how to monetize online and social media content for these companies. A recent poll from Pew Research Center on the state of local TV news shows an increasing influence of digitally-driven advertising.

Younger audiences are overwhelmingly receiving news on their mobile device. In March, Sarah Perez, writer for TechCrunch, reported U.S. consumers now spend five hours a day on their mobile devices. So, there’s no wonder broadcast companies are working vigilantly to find the right way to turn news consumers’ habits into revenue.

Using smart phone art

But how will CEOs and news management uphold the traditional principles of journalism while competing for advertising dollars? It’s a huge dilemma, and it’s one that should be addressed by academic and journalism organizations.

Social media monitoring in newsrooms

A reporter friend reached out to me recently. She asked I not include her name in this column because her station is participating in a social media monitoring service called Share Rocket. According to its website, they can help companies monetize social media posts. That’s especially helpful to broadcast news management as they search for ways their news staff can connect with news consumers on social media platforms. While people still watch over-the-air TV news, it has become obvious that more and more people (especially young people) are receiving their news online and through their mobile devices.

My concern is the rushed way news companies are changing the dynamic of news by worrying about the level of engagement compared to the quality of impactful journalism. As a journalism community, I wonder what we are giving up just to receive “likes” and “follows.” I understand the need for news staff to engage with news consumers online, but what’s lost in return?

Likes artAren’t we turning our reporters and anchors into community billboards for these stations rather than journalists? My reporter friend informs me her station requires that she post selfies; her managers believe it’s the best way to get consumers to “like” her post — and that’s how she gets “points” on her social media platform.

Her station — like many others across the country now — is counting on her selfie receiving “likes”; the more “likes” you get, the better your social media score. The more reactions for the reporter and the station, the more appeal from advertising companies.  According to my friend, most stations across the country are now using this type of service to measure social media engagement.

‘The more reactions for the reporter and the station, the more appeal from advertising companies.” – David Baxley

So, you’re telling me engagement isn’t based on producing great work anymore? It’s based on whether some will “like” a new hair style or simply whether the news consumer will “like” a post because they believe the reporter is attractive? As attractive as my friend is, she wants to be a reporter — not a sex symbol.

Impactful news versus selfies?

SPJ National logo jpgAre we slipping away from upholding the principles of the Society of Professional Journalists — reporting news independently and ethically, seeking truth and reporting, and holding ourselves accountable. News companies have stooped to the level of social media engagement rather than reporters investigating stories that will be impactful to citizens across the country. Is that where we are?

Don’t get me wrong: connecting with news consumers is necessary.  I’m not criticizing the need for broadcast news to be engaged even more through all the social media platforms nowadays. The media must be inviting to the younger news consumer audience. But it sounds to me as if a bunch of money-hungry corporate CEOs have gotten together with some ill-informed consultant and some media monitoring companies to make a quick buck off of you and me.

News consumers should demand more. I want journalism — not a selfie. – David Baxley

We wonder why trust in the news media is at its lowest in decades? What happened to working hard as a journalist and the entire news staff of producers, directors, photographers and editors to provide the best “news” in the market? That’s how you engage.

Mona Lisa selfieIt’s not just by taking out our phone, taking a selfie and posting it. It’s a travesty if real journalism is being replaced by inconsequential Twitter posts. We will never rebuild trust from news consumers with that type of attitude.

Journalism organizations should demand better. The First Amendment granted us freedom to uncover information, find out about the inner-workings of government, and truthfully report on news needed for our democracy to sustain itself.

Local news stations play an important role in their respective communities; after all, shouldn’t they be about serving “in the public trust?” Journalists have played such pivotal roles in democracy. But I fear we are moving in a dangerous direction in the way news organizations are utilizing social media. If posting a selfie constitutes journalism now, we have certainly let down the nation as an institution.

Journalism 101: It is our job to educate

And, I will make one last point. During the 2016 election, Pew Research Center found Donald Trump garnered support from less educated voters.  Consider the ongoing chaos in Washington, D.C. in the past six months. Don’t you think it’s necessary to engage consumers with actual news — not selfies — in order to educate them on pertinent issues important to their families? We need to educate citizens on social issues, emerging threats to our nation, and economic policies.

Journalism can help save our democracy. I believe the Founding Fathers intended for that to happen. They didn’t believe press organizations should be solely concerned with turning a profit.

It’s time to enlighten news consumers with sharp, ethical, sensible reporting to help bring debate to the table on both sides of the political spectrum.

Selfies are not the answer to journalism’s woes.

I welcome your comments.

david-baxley

David Baxley

David Baxley is Assistant Professor of Mass Communications, Francis Marion University, and a SPJ South Carolina member. Baxley worked in broadcast news since 1999. He is also a meteorologist. Before entering academia in 2016, Baxley worked as an investigative producer at WIAT-TV in Birmingham, Alabama, for two years. Baxley is a regular contributor to the SPJ Region 3 website, SizingUpTheSouth.com.

 

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