The Pew Research Center, a heretofore trusted source, announced last week that social media has outpaced print newspapers as a news source. It now says one in five Americans rely on social media more so than print.
We can only hope what these citizens are reading on social media originates with print journalism reporting and not with the Kremlin.
But chances are good the masses are served by our lowest common denominator, and that’s not news — it’s always been that way.
There is a greater good in the internet in that it brings information to the masses like never before.
And speaking for print newspapers, we’re used to being kicked around.
You’d have to tumble to the 1800s to find print with a monopoly on real news.
It wasn’t until nearly 1900 that the first radio transmission traveled the airwaves of Italy. A couple of decades later, radio broadcasting passed through stucco walls, into the homes of thousands of listeners. It brought with it auditory news and entertainment rolling over painted hills, babbling brooks and knotted trees up to 100 miles away in an instant.
It was the first electronic mass medium.
And that, our predecessors were told, was the end of newspapers.
By 1928, the first TV broadcast made its way across the Atlantic, and by the late 1940s, you could switch between your favorite stations: NBC, CBS or ABC.
Those early giants of electronic media had the nation’s eyes and ears on lockdown. The family (and their neighbors) gathered around a new electronic hearth, and the heart of the home moved from the dining table to the Zenith, and radio broadcasting was declared to be a dead man walking.
The Buggles, the 1980s new-wave rock group, sang to us, “Video killed the radio star.”
And then along came the World Wide Web, which took us from our living rooms to wherever an individual wanting information happened to be, at any time.
In its great irony, social media has had an inverse effect on interpersonal communications as news junkies more often are glued to a pocket-sized screen on their smartphones rather than engaging in discussion with their family and friends.
For all of its benefits, social media is still mostly a one-way medium of the masses shouting into the abyss.
When some of our oldest readers were young, they got their news by eavesdropping on a party line. If you’re too young to remember, a party line was a local loop telephone circuit shared by multiple homes. A person who had a party line knew by the number of rings whether a call was for their household or that of a neighbor’s. And curiosity might cause a person to listen in on someone else’s conversation — just like the government.
But that, like most of today’s social media, was gossip. And in defense of gossip, it’s quite often a lot more fun than the real news, regardless of its veracity.
Print newspapers (and their websites) still are considered the leaders when it comes to credible information, so people in our business often are asked how a person can discern real news from fake news.
First, be skeptical of everything, especially if it’s online. Look for how other news outlets covered a particular story. If no one else is covering it, it’s probably suspect.
Separating the chaff from the grain often isn’t easy. Most of the perpetrators of fake news sell their ware on the internet, and they often go to great lengths to disguise their lies by attributing the information to a credible source. It’s how most scams work: develop a little trust, then take the mark for a ride.
Here is where it’s difficult to beat a print newspaper, because most of us have been around for a century or more. And that’s because your grandparents trusted us. They knew what they read in these pages was reliable, and that’s because we check our facts and rely on more than one source for a story.