Ease of access to news can be mixed blessing


Ability of users to get information at any given time can lead to public more fixated on quick bites rather than substantial pieces

In a day and age where information is disseminated in nanoseconds and an unfathomable amount of content is at our fingertips, it’s not surprising that people want what they’re looking for in the most condensed, readily-available form possible. However, this tendency could encourage the status quo and prevent us from improving as a society.

Shailesh Prakash, the chief product and technology officer of The Washington Post spoke at UTD on Nov. 6 about the effects of new technology on the media industry. He brought up the fact that Carol Leonnig of The Post won a Pulitzer Prize this year for her coverage of the Secret Service’s failure to protect the President.

This investigative story, which took three years to construct and totaled 11 pages, reached a significantly smaller audience than some entertainment pieces by The Post, Prakash said.

In the fast-moving world we live in today, we tend to drift toward news platforms that offer quick nuggets of information and don’t require much searching. A study done by the Pew Research Center shows that the percentage of users who get their news from social media has risen between 2013 and 2015. Sixty-three percent of both Twitter and Facebook users claim that the social media sites are their primary news source.

Instant access to news through social media circulation is a rising trend — and it’s not necessarily the worst thing. The interactive aspect of social media drives more people to be interested in what is happening around them. For example, the safety status feature on Facebook allows one to track the well-being of a loved one if they’re in an area affected by a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. They could be receiving news of the event and confirmation of their friend’s safety all in one scroll.

Social media also entices users to be in touch with current events by making content easy to access and digest. It’s an attractive source for people who normally wouldn’t seek out the news.

However, news shouldn’t just be about allowing people to be in touch with their surroundings. It should move people to ask the right questions and enact change, or else society runs the risk of getting caught up in the current state of affairs.

“We strongly believe that if traditional companies like The Post and The New York Times disappear and all you got your news from was the Buzzfeeds and the Twitters of the world, we believe that society would be harmed by it,” Prakash said.

Change is vital to improvement. Identifying and rectifying our mistakes is the only way we can set a better example for future generations.

A clear instance that highlights the long-term benefits of investigative, long-form journalism is the legislative reforms and federal investigations Leonnig’s pieces have launched. She’s uncovered everything from the corruption of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell to the presences of excess lead in drinking water in the District of Columbia.

Through such detailed reporting, Leonnig was able to hold the government accountable, but her work is of no use if it doesn’t garner public support. That support will only follow when people show the same amount of interest in this news format as they show for quick updates.

Although news outlets may make a greater profit by producing click bait content that consumers are looking for, they are doing the people a disservice. Journalism is meant to inform and incite, and that can’t be achieved if you’re not approaching it from a cause-oriented perspective.

“There is the concept of being a mercenary, which is, you know, you sell your skills to the highest bidder and you can make a lot of money that way if that’s your goal,” Prakash said. “But there’s also the missionary aspect: are you doing good? Is this something you really believe in? A lot of us who work at The Post are not just here because we are coin-operated, but we are also cause-operated.”

It is a journalist’s duty to move away from giving readers what they want and start giving them what they need. It is a reader’s duty to demand more from their news sources and use them as a starting point to enact change in their communities.


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