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Opening Arguments

This just in

We all know that what we think of as "the news" is evolving rapidly. The social networks are a part of it, and it looks like they're becoming a more signigicant component  even sooner than many of us thought:

The share of Americans for whom Twitter and Facebook serve as a source of news is continuing to rise. This rise comes primarily from more current users encountering news there rather than large increases in the user base overall, according to findings from a new survey. The report also finds that users turn to each of these prominent social networks to fulfill different types of information needs.

 The new study, conducted by Pew Research Center in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, finds that clear majorities of Twitter (63%) and Facebook users (63%) now say each platform serves as a source for news about events and issues outside the realm of friends and family. That share has increased substantially from 2013, when about half of users (52% of Twitter users, 47% of Facebook users) said they got news from the social platforms.

[. . .]

These findings come at a time when the two social media platforms are increasing their emphasis on news. Twitter is soon set to unveil its long-rumored news feature, “Project Lightning.” The feature will allow anyone, whether they are a Twitter user or not, to view a feed of tweets, images and videos about live events as they happen, curated by a bevy of new employees with “newsroom experience.” And, in early 2015, Twitter purchased and launched the live video-streaming app Periscope, further highlighting their focus on providing information about live events as they happen. Meanwhile, in May, Facebook launched Instant Articles, a trial project that allows media companies to publish stories directly to the Facebook platform instead of linking to outside sites, and, in late June, Facebook started introducing its “Trending” sidebar to allow users to filter by topic and see only trending news about politics, science and technology, sports or entertainment.

As someone who believes strongly in the need for an informed citizenry, I'm glad so many people are still consuming news, even if its in a way that poses a threat to the legacy media that have provided my livlihood (we're of course trying to get in on it but haven't quite figured out a way to make money at it). But there are a couple of worrisome things. 

One is that it used to be that you consumed news in a specific, dedicated way: you opened up a newspaper or turned on the evening news because you were ready to consume news and you paid attention while you're doing it. If you consume news just as one byproduct of your social networking, I'm not sure you do pay attention very much, so you will be less informed. The other is that people on social networks (especially Facebook) tend to pass back and forth the stuff that interests them, which means they might well caught up on one or two things but lacking in general awareness of unfolding events.

But the same kinds of concerns were raised when it became apparent people were starting to depend moreon TV than on print, so maybe that's just latent fuddy duddyness on my part.

I've been surprised at how much I use Twitter for breaking news. You can set up separate groups of your links, and if you put all your news feeds in the same file, you can find out anything that's happened in the last hour (or a minute ago) in about 30 seconds. At my first job, with the Wabash Plain Dealer, I was wire editor for awhile, which means early every morning I checked the AP feed and decided which stories were available for the day. This was pre-Internet -- hell, it was pre-cable TV -- so I new what was happening in the world hours before anybody else in Wabash did. Now, anybody on the planet can get it all anytime.