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Social media: will it make the newspaper go extinct?

Twitter will outlast the New York Times. At least that’s what Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel predicted in May. While the day the storied Grey Lady folds is hopefully far into the future, the forecast hints at the ramifications of social media on the newspaper.

No doubt editors have considered the very same thing what with various headlines over the year announcing that social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, were trying to be the next newspaper. The evidence that the professional networking site is indeed widening its scope came earlier this year when LinkedIn purchased Pulse, an app that gives readers the ability to browse articles from various sources online. Even before that, however, the professional networking site had already begun to offer its own brand of news with articles written by leading business figures.

Facebook, which already displays content in its news feed from publishers, had the Wall Street Journal claiming it was trying to “become a newspaper for mobile devices” earlier this summer. The popular social network has been working on a service called Reader, which would display content from users and publishers designed for mobile devices, reported the Journal. Only last month, the popular social networking site also decided to follow in the footsteps of Twitter by allowing users to embed public posts.

Twitter, with its trending topics, hashtag system and ability to embed posts, will actually replace newspaper and magazine subscriptions, wrote Todd Greider from The DigitalFA in a recent article. His list includes the ability to filter out the noise on Twitter by creating lists, creating a customized view of your industry and the mobility. Greider also mentioned its power, citing how a false tweet about an explosion at the White House earlier this year impacted the stock market by $136 billion.

Roughly a year ago, Sabith Khan, a social entrepreneur, researcher and founder of MENASA, a think-tank and policy shop engaged in issues related to MENA and South Asia, made an argument as to why social media could never replace newspapers. Among his reasons, he included the benefit of a journalist’s training and credibility. And yet, that doesn’t necessarily describe how only newspapers can specifically offer these elements.

Vin Crosbie, managing partner of Digital Deliverance LLC, and adjunct professor of multimedia, photography and design at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, as well as new media consultant for the school, believes that new forms of mass media will eventually dominate traditional venues for news in the marketplace.  What’s working against traditional is the inability to customize individual newspapers for each member of its audience, which he called an “Industrial Era technological limitation.”

Instead, he argued that the flow of stories from connecting with friends, who share stories and news on each other’s sites or feeds, as well as the ability to tag various news feeds into social media, makes for a more diverse experience for the reader.

“These new forms of public media that provide feeds of news, entertainment and information, which much more articulately match individuals’ needs, interests and tastes, are known as Individuated Media. Social Media are the major subset. Most have all the reach and even greater mass scale than any Mass Medium, yet each user simultaneously sees an entirely different mix of content than every other user. Think of Facebook as an example: 1.1 billion users, yet each sees an entirely unique mix of content based upon individual needs, interests, tastes and choices of friends. Is Facebook a Mass Medium? No. It’s an Individuated Media,” he said in an email interview. (You can read his full response here).

Yet, there is an inherent danger in this individuation in media. Alan Martin from Wired UK noted in May that over-personalized news can put users in an “echo chamber.”

“By rights, the Internet should be doing more than anything else to open our eyes to new perspectives and experiences. We’re moving away from that: as the Web becomes increasingly tailored to the individual, we’re more likely than ever to be served personalized content that makes us happy and keeps us clicking. That happy content is seldom anything that challenges our viewpoint, and there’s a risk that this distorts our view of the wider world outside our browser,” he wrote.

Despites the risks, individuated media will most likely continue to be a favored way to view the news. “There is an epochal shit in media underway,” said Crosby. So in the end, it’s possible the paranoid whispers have had it right—social media is a threat to the long-term existence of the newspaper.

–Katrina M. Mendolera



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