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The Impact of Social Media on the News

May 18, 2010

Social media has had a major impact on the news industry. Before, we all had to rely on the mainstream media for our information, but today, new stories break on websites, Twitter, and Facebook hours before national media outlets report them. An example of this is that I had heard about Michael Jackson’s death hours before any news station reported it, thanks to Twitter.

A more recent example…

As you have probably heard by now, Nashville got hit hard with a flood two weeks ago. Some say it is the biggest non-hurricane natural disaster in the United States. There was devastation to thousands of houses and business all over the area, over 1.5 billion dollars in damage in Nashville, and 31 people in three states died from this storm. Yet, so few people knew about it until days after it happened. National media was just short of ignoring the story completely. My mom summed it up well when she called me from Philadelphia near the end of the storm, and said, “Well, they finally gave you guys about 2 minutes on Fox News.”

However, Nashville didn’t let the lack of media coverage get to us. In fact, we took it into our own hands. Instead of waiting on the media to give us coverage, Nashville stepped up to the plate. So many citizens volunteered to help those directly affected by the flood, that both the Red Cross and FEMA said they had never seen a city respond so well, and that we would need less help than estimated because of it.

And instead of sitting around waiting for national news to report, Nashville created it’s own coverage using social media. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were a-flurry with reports of what was going on from locals who were experiencing the floods first hand. Nashville became a trending topic on Twitter on multiple occasions. (Sadly, we still couldn’t oust Justin Beiber on the trending list).

Thanks to social media sites, Nashville residents were able to be kept informed with the latest updates. This was especially helpful with the availability to check Twitter on phones, as thousands of residents had no other way to get info due to power outages. Sites likes Nashvillest constantly updated us about road closures, safety, areas that were severely impacted, pictures from their readers, how to get help, fatalities, the status of our water treatment plants, how to apply for FEMA, rescue stories, etc.

Nashville Residents also took advantage of social media by emailing and Twittering media outlets asking them to take notice of what was going on here, pointing out the fact that lesser stories were getting more press. (While there were also two other big stories going on, media was not covering either of them full time, leaving plenty of room for our story to be told.) Because of Nashville’s efforts, Anderson Cooper from CNN took notice, acknowledged we had been ignored by the media, and apologized to Nashville. He flew down the next day to see the devastation first hand, report live, and inform his viewers of the tragedy that had occurred. Thanks to social media, he heard our message and took action. He listened to his audience.

Many of my friends in other areas of the country said they didn’t even know about the flood until they saw my Twitters and Facebook statuses. Social media sites were an incredible tool that allowed me to keep my family and friends easily updated without having to call each one of them separately. If it weren’t for these sites, they wouldn’t have had a clue that Nashville needed prayer and financial help.

Mashable compiled a list of Nashville residents’ pictures from Twitter and videos from YouTube that helped tell the story of what was going on in Nashville during the flood. You can see the wide range of stories that were recorded and shared within minutes of them happening, a much faster response time than national media. If you watch the “Franklin TN Flooding 05-02-10” video, some of that footage is 3 blocks from our office.

This is why being connected and updating to your audience is so important. News about you and your career will spread much faster online than through traditional means. Like Anderson Cooper, you can get immediate feedback from your audience and respond.

What are some of the stories you have about things you heard online before you heard them on the news? Any success stories on circulating your news online?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Carla permalink
    May 20, 2010 9:34 AM

    So this is not really an answer to your question, but it’s somewhat related. I was reading some news article on the Seattle PI (newspaper) website, and they mentioned something about a facebook group forming to protest something or other, and that the group had 4,000 people.

    So you’re trying to tell me that in a country with over 307 million people, a facebook group of 4,000 is worth mentioning?

    Perhaps since many of the print newspapers are shutting down because of costs, the remaining ones are trying to put on the mantle of relevance by sticking some “social media” factoids into their stories. Mainstream media inexplicably attempts at making nothing into something, and something into nothing. Which I think is how your predicament in Nashville was largely ignored, and 4,000 facebookers got into the biggest newspaper in Washington.

  2. Rebekah Markowitz permalink*
    May 27, 2010 10:12 AM

    Thanks for your input Carla. I believe there were so many factors that went into why we were “ignored.” And that was local news for your city, I suppose.

    Regardless, it’s been amazing watching how social media has changed how people view the news.

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