Consumers in Control: With Great Power Comes Weak Accountability
The 2016 presidential campaign saw a greater social media presence from candidates, and many journalists agree the Trump administration relies on social media more than any other past administration.
Similarly, news organizations are focusing on becoming more social media and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) savvy in the face of heavy competition.
Bart Jansen (BA ‘86), a reporter for USA Today, recognizes the importance of social media in politics and with journalists in Washington, D.C.
“Technology continues to grow and swallow everything in its path…you have to be web first now,” he says.
Rebecca Morin (BA ’16), a web producer at Politico, says 30 to 40 percent of Politico’s top stories’ web traffic comes from Facebook clicks.
“In general, 2016 was the most successful in Politico’s 10-year history,” Morin says.
Specific SEOs Politico put in place for articles regarding the presidential election helped it achieve its most successful year. Specifically, the keywords were “Trump,” “Inauguration,” and “2017.” Politico also used Chartbeat, a statistics software program for publishers, to track items such as web traffic per story.
“A minute doesn’t seem long, but with so much news going on, it’s interesting to see what grabs people’s attention,” Morin says.
Morin says journalists must find a balance between using specific SEO tags and reaching the broadest audience.
“Think about what you would search on Google. It’s a different mindset,” she says.
Jason Brummond (BA ’08/MBA ’14), an analyst at Frank N. Magid Associates and incoming publisher for The Daily Iowan, says news organizations have a higher hurdle to jump to gain traction with audiences. Younger consumers, specifically millennials, use more sources to obtain news than in previous years.
“You have to be good on multiple platforms to convince consumers,” Brummond says.
The rise of devices, such as the smartphone, helped multiple platforms become more accessible and convenient to consumers on a large scale.
“Eighty percent of consumers, 18-64 year olds, have a smartphone,” Brummond says. “Consumers are in control, and they’ve got a lot of options.”
From Consumer to Gatekeeper
Due to these technological advances, expectations in how one receives news have changed over time. Consumers are not the only ones who have recognized the importance of social media as a legitimate platform.
“There’s a reason why there’s a push on social media,” Morin says. “It’s because this administration is so reliant on it, and that is what is so brand new.”
Brummond says Trump’s attacks on certain news organizations as fake news could generate more of an interest in journalism—similar to the surge of enthusiasm that occurred after Watergate.
Despite Trump’s attacks, many journalists agree the most important thing in journalism is to get the story right. But a frightening trend has emerged among consumers: any news they do not agree with quickly becomes fake news in their eyes.
After writing an article regarding the privatization of air traffic control (a motion that Trump supports), many consumers accused Jansen on Twitter of writing fake news.
“You have to grow a thick skin to deal with criticism you wouldn’t expect,” Jansen says. “You have to remember that not everyone’s going to agree with the premise of your story.”
Jansen says although Trump’s actions have brought a significant amount of attention to journalism, consumers should be careful not to conclude a story with which they don’t agree is fake news.
“There’s a difference between fake news and stories you don’t want to hear,” Jansen says.
Jansen advises consumers to look at any given story as a synthesizer of information and encourages them to do their own research and read other publications. “There’s no magic bullet,” he says.