In its 2014 review of the state of the media industry, the Pew Research Center finds reason to believe that American journalism has a future -- something that hasn't been obvious after years of belt tightening, layoffs, technological changes, and newspaper closures.
New digital media companies have arisen and thrived, many with the help of talented people from traditional media organizations. Entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos, John Henry, and Pierre Omidyar are bringing needed investment and the perspective of outsiders to the industry. And there is evidence that social media have become a meaningful channel to reach the young audience necessary to sustain the news industry as the newspaper generation ages.
But the need for revenue has brought change that challenges traditional media practices. Pew's report finds that "the overlap between public relations and news noted in last year's State of the News Media report became even more pronounced." Many online publications now include content that is paid for by commercial advertisers and cannot easily be distinguished from reported stories. Sometimes this sponsored content is even written by staff news writers. The metrics firm eMarketer predicts these "native ads" -- promotional copy dressed up as reported news -- will generate $2.85 billion of revenue this year.
[Has Facebook become overwhelming? Here's how to cut down on the clutter. Read 5 Facebook Spring Cleaning Tips.]
The importance of social media to news is hard to overestimate. The Pew Research Center cites eight findings about social media and their relationship with news that people should take from its report.
1. News matters more on some social media sites than on others.
According to the Pew report, 30% of Americans get at least some news while on Facebook. On YouTube, that figure is 10%. On Twitter, it's 8%. Few users of Instagram and Pinterest get their news there.
2. Reading news on Facebook is secondary to social interactions.
The report says that 78% of Facebook news users tend to see news while using Facebook for other activities, and that only 34% of Facebook users who read news there bother to Like a news organization or journalist. Facebook is probably not the ideal place for news organizations to develop deep audience engagement.
3. News seen through Facebook covers a wide range of topics.
Though entertainment news is the most commonly seen category among Facebook users (73%), other categories are well represented. Science/technology and business are the two least popular topics, at 37% and 31%, respectively.
4. Engagement is a key part of social news interaction.
Among social networking site users, 50% shared or reposted news stories, images, or videos; 46% discussed a news issue or event; 14% posted their own photo of a news event; and 12% posted their own video of a news event.
5. Twitter represents a passionate community, but its views differ from the mainstream.
As an example, Pew's study notes that, in the days following the 2012 Newtown, Conn., shootings, 64% of Twitter users called for stricter gun control laws. A broader Pew public opinion poll at the time found only 49% of respondents supported that view.
6. The sentiments expressed in Twitter conversations might be fickle.
The report notes that, from April 1 to April 14 of last year, 55% of Twitter users expressed opposition to same-sex marriage, and 32% expressed support. Yet, from April 15 through May 12, 46% expressed support for same-sex marriage, while 26% opposed it.
7. The audience for news differs across social platforms.
On Facebook, the percentage of male news consumers is 42%, and the percentage of female news consumers is 58%. On YouTube -- where commenters can hide behind pseudonyms -- the gender distribution is almost reversed: 57% male and 43% female. On LinkedIn, the gender disparity is even more pronounced: 67% male and 37% female. On Twitter, it's an even 50-50 split, but its audience has the highest percentage of young adults: 45% are between 18 and 29, compared with just 18% on LinkedIn. However, LinkedIn has the largest percentage of users with at least a bachelor's degree (64%).
8. Visitors who come to a news website through Facebook or search-related display advertising are less engaged than those who seek the site out directly.
Though Facebook and search might matter for hitting website traffic targets, they don't seem all that helpful for building a long-term, sustainable audience.
Social networking and news clearly have a future together. There's already a startup called Newsle that will send you news about people in your social network. But the results of that hookup can be expected to vary: Social engagement isn't the same thing as a sustainable revenue model.
Engage with Oracle president Mark Hurd, NFL CIO Michelle McKenna-Doyle, General Motors CIO Randy Mott, Box founder Aaron Levie, UPMC CIO Dan Drawbaugh, GE Power CIO Jim Fowler, and other leaders of the Digital Business movement at the InformationWeek Conference and Elite 100 Awards Ceremony, to be held in conjunction with Interop in Las Vegas, March 31 to April 1, 2014. See the full agenda here.