The New Media Effect

I've been taking an online social media course with Algonquin College and the assignments are in the form of blog posts which go up on the program's Wordpress blog. This is the first one. Second post coming soon...

Before social media, there was a time, no so long ago, when current events trickled down through newspapers. In those days, major dailies, like the New York Times, counted on smaller newspapers to reprint or follow-up on stories they had covered the previous day – this came to be known as the New York Times effect. Small scale dailies, radio stations and even Walter Cronkite and other morning television news anchors who read the news on-air, counted on the Times and the Washington Post to get their headlines.

These papers were the main source of news, and all the stories printed and delivered at the crack of dawn, were new, relevant and timely. If you like journalism and social media, I suggest you watch Page One: Inside the New York Times – the film is a documentary about the biggest threat to the newspaper business in modern history: the 2008 recession which led to the loss of advertising revenue, and the rise of the internet and social media. The film follows media desk reporter David Carr, just as the Times were struggling through debt.

What transpires in the documentary (filmed throughout one year) is the beginning of the transformation – just as you get to know Carr and see him in his element of traditional reporting, chasing interviews and having long winded conversations on a wired telephone, the film switches gears with the introduction of Brian Stelter, a young media reporter who got the job by blogging about current events. Carr describes Stelter as “a robot assembled to destroy” him. In spite of this, Carr is clearly open, if not enthusiastic about social media and the new ways of reporting that Stelter is introducing to the Times.

These days, the New York Times effect simply does not work, but the bigger challenge is that newspapers are beginning to lose their purpose, if they haven’t already. A story is not new, relevant and timely anymore if it is printed 12, eight or four hours after the fact. By the time newspapers are sent to press and delivered to doorsteps, all that content, so carefully written and edited, is old news.

The New York Times eventually followed the Wall Street Journal’s example by adding a paywall for access to their website and by building various platforms to fit their content into the new social media realm. Here at home, the Ottawa Citizen recently became the first PostMedia daily to release its new look, built to suit new age media.

Carr admits that conventional journalism is not the way anymore, and as times change the media is no longer the message, as Marshall McLuhan said so many years ago. These days, Carr says, “the messages are the media.”

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