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Steven W. Korn On How Social Networks Have Transformed News Media

By Carly Fiske

Steven W. Korn asserts that the internet and social media networks have transformed the way we share, read and search for news. This has sparked plenty of worried speculation that all news might downgrade to the level of cat pictures and Instagram selfies one day, but fortunately it’s not that simple.

Korn suggests that what has really changed is the way we access news, rather than the content of the news itself.

As the former Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of CNN, Steven W. Korn has been observing the evolution of news in both his personal and professional life. Korn suggests that the changing trends can especially be observed among young people, many of whom use their smartphone to read the news rather than picking up the morning paper.

“My kids, who are in their 20s, never read the newspaper. They’ve never had newspaper ink on their hands in their whole life. They get all their information off the web, whether it’s a legitimate news source like CNN or from less legitimate sources like social media,” Steven W. Korn claims.

His observation sheds light on the transformation news-reading has made in the last decade. It shouldn’t be all that surprising that young people are using social media to get their news, considering how much time users spend on such sites these days, media expert Steven W. Korn claims.

In a Pew Research report, it was found that Facebook had 133 million active users at the end of 2011, each spending an average of 423 minutes on the site. To put that in perspective, average users spend only about 12 minutes per month on the top 25 news sites, according to a PEJ analysis of Nielsen Net View.

A review from the Buzzfeed Partner Network seems to agree, concluding that while homepage traffic is dropping, social media clicks have doubled.

In other words, instead of visiting news websites directly, people are logging on to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social sites, and are being exposed to news stories there instead of opening a newspaper to find them.

Facebook in particular is a major source of news source links, with 161 million outbound links to publishers in 2013, up from 62 million in 2012.

But is Facebook’s news feed actually “news”? Are social media users actually signing on to social networks for the purpose of getting news? Not so much, experts say.

According to The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson, Facebook is more like “an entertainment portal for stories that remind us of our lives and offer something like an emotional popper.”

And while Facebook is a major pathway to news sources, only ten percent of users visit the site for that purpose, according to a 2013 Pew study.

Thompson explains that much of what a user sees on the Facebook news feed isn’t actually “news,” per se.

“Instead, they are what journalists call ‘evergreen’ stories—essays about diets, Millennials and happiness, studies on coffee and decision-making, or beautiful photos.”

Most users get news unintentionally by, for example, “being assaulted by a breaking news event” while looking at baby photos.

Indeed, the Pew report did find that Facebook news comes mostly from family and friends, while networks like Twitter expose users to a broader range of people and organizations. For example, when asked where most news stories came from on Facebook, 70 percent said friends and family, with 13 percent saying news organizations or journalists. But on Twitter, 36 percent claim they get most news from friends and family, and 27 percent claim they get most from news organizations.

But according to the Pew report, the rise of social media “does not appear to be coming at the expense of people going directly to news sites or searching for news topics they are interested in.”

Instead, it seems to serve as a supplemental way of consuming news.

Indeed, the Pew report found that 71 percent of those who follow Facebook news links also go directly to news websites to get info. For Twitter news followers, the percentage was 76 percent.

This is good news for those who know how superficial social media stories can be. Fortunately for them, social media is not commencing a new battle against quality news. That battle that began long before the Internet emerged.

“Entertainment was beating up on news long before Zuckerberg was born. People always outsold Time. Broadcast sitcom ratings always made mincemeat of PBS. The back sections of the newspaper have long cross-subsidized the foreign coverage of the A-section,” Thompson says.

After all, social media is supposed to give us the opportunity to create our own window into the world, allowing us to choose the news we read and share. The Facebook news feed, for example, can be customized to include particular people, journalists and organizations and is possibly “the world’s most sophisticated mirror of its readers’ preferences,” Thompson claims.

Naturally, the stories most likely to be shared on social media are those that are evocative, not just newsy and current.

The digital revolution has altered many of our traditional ways of communicating and reading, and the way we get our news has been no exception. Despite the fact that social media networks tend to prefer what’s trending, their ubiquity doesn’t mean the end of quality news. Instead, media experts like Steven W. Korn suggest that people now have more freedom and access to the news than they ever did before.

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