Column: Keep ‘news’ in new media

Jo Kroeker

Sometimes I read as many as six listicles before breakfast — if breakfast were the Tasty video I watched about mini egg bakes in muffin tins.

Every morning, like 62 percent of adults, I roll over, open Facebook and scroll through my Newsfeed, the aggregate of posts my virtual community considers newsworthy. It’s mostly a flood of made-to-go-viral content. After the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, people shared “articles” that are actually knee-jerk commentaries and “news” stories using social media posts for sources, things Facebook predicted I would interact with because the posters’ views aligned with my own.

Social media platforms are disrupting traditional journalism. As these companies swallow news outlets, they disconnect readers from their communities and lock them into algorithm-created echo chambers.

But if news outlets value high-impact local stories over clicks and reacts, and readers value reported content over emotional reactions, we can restore the symbiotic relationship between a paper and its community.

“Facebook capitalized on community because we squandered it,” said Robert Hernandez, a digital journalism professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “We had a corner on what the internet was, and we took it for granted.”

In chasing technology’s metrics of success, clicks, shares and reactions that make successful viral content, news outlets lose their one advantage: accurate, ethical and in-depth coverage of local news readers won’t get from national sources.

In yesteryear, traditional, family-owned print news products funded by advertising and subscription fees provided their communities with local news, sports, features and entertainment, says Jane Briggs-Bunting, former journalist and founding president of Michigan Coalition for Open Government.

Two developments forced media to give up their golden apple, Briggs-Bunting says: Newspapers sacrificed free content online that Google, Yahoo and AOL scraped and disseminated, losing paid readership and ad revenue. Corporations consolidated locally owned papers, developing efficient business models that demanded higher returns without regard for content.

Understaffed, newspapers adapted coverage to the algorithms shaping the content readers saw, fraying the paper-community relationship.

“(The goal of media) is to give voice to the voiceless, but we didn’t,” Hernandez said. “Technology gave them that voice.”

User-generated content, or citizen journalism, surged. People without formal training or access to the best sources could write opinion-based stories about political and social trends. If it generated reactions, good, bad or ugly, it was a success.

All bets may seem off in this new news ecosystem, but that’s not true. Readers and papers have a duty to restore their relationship based on reading and trusting the news written by, about and for them.

Social media play an important role in this restoration: Papers can and should use social media to reach their communities where they gather, such as on Facebook, and readers should use the platforms to give the papers instant feedback.

Otherwise, we won’t hear our stories and the news that affects us over generic viral content’s deafening roar.

Jo Kroeker is a senior at Hillsdale College and a summer intern at The Detroit News.