Last Friday, New York Times Company CEO Mark Thompson addressed the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in Great Britain, and spoke of the challenges the newspaper faces, especially with social media:
Once, and not so long ago, different papers, TV channels and news websites competed for who was going to be first with the really big breaking story. Now we know in advance where that story’s almost certainly going to appear first – Twitter and sites like it. They usually beat us all.
And yet the problem with Twitter is you don’t just get the news, you get everything else as well: uncorroborated but potentially precious eye-witness testimony and citizen journalism, but also rumour, speculation, disinformation, propaganda, lies and general nuttiness. Just a few years ago, it was sometimes suggested that the world’s professional journalists might well soon be replaced by a kind of Wikipedia of news, reported and curated by a global army of publicly spirited amateurs. But quite apart from issues of political and cultural bias and objectivity, it turns out that what we face in a major unfolding hard news story is a vast, roiling sea of actuality, with fresh breakers crashing in every few seconds and with both truth and narrative often fiendishly hard to pick out.
Thompson would like nothing more than to return to the good old days before Twitter and Facebook, when newspapers and television controlled the news cycle, and delivering yesterday’s news was not only acceptable, but expected.
Now, thanks to Twitter and other social media sites, the news is no longer controlled by the liberal elites, and that frustrates Thompson. He disparaged Twitter by labeling it as full of rumors, lies and propaganda, while ignoring the fact that not only does his own newspaper use Twitter, but many mainstream journalists rely on it for their news.
Rather than criticize social media because it has disrupted his business, Thompson needs to find a way to harness its power to his advantage before it’s too late.