I was standing in a dollar store this week and saw a tabloid to the right.
The size of the font and the exclamation mark at the end assured me that the story was a big deal. (I don’t remember what it was about.)
If you walk out a dollar store, it’s unlikely that you’ll see a newspaper stand or a newspaper rack. Dollar store companies don’t care or have much use for newspapers. Traditional grocery stores and Walmart are generally interested in carrying newspapers.
However, even there reputable local or national newspapers typically are lying flat on their back, not standing upright as close to eye-level as possible like the magazines or tabloids do. Reputable publications like to be prominently displayed at the front of the store, but they don’t need to scream at you or try to offer some type of clickbait. Nonetheless, we have had “fake news” or “clickbait” news for a long time, long before the Internet even existed.
We have had biased news long before social media existed. Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were not just biased. They were actual congressmen in New York. They had no qualms about displaying their bias, and they didn’t mind wearing both the politician and publisher hats. The bias and the access to tabloid/clickbait news hasn’t changed. It’s just that we can find it online instead of in print now.
However, I believe social media has changed one thing for the better. Social media has allowed us to engage more directly with our friends and family about issues that we follow. Some say social media causes us to be more isolated and to follow only the publications or sites that we agree with the most. But in reality, social media exposes us to other thoughts and ideas more than before. A few decades ago we had limited access to news channels and publications.
Now we are regularly learning about different publications because a friend has posted a link on his or her wall. Social media also reminds us more than ever that many of the people who believe differently from us are our loved ones, our family members, and our colleagues.
We didn’t have that level of interaction from TV, radio, or newspapers. Sure, people could call in to the radio show and comment, or they could write a letter to the editor. However, the traditional forms of media were relatively limited by time or space. A common question when someone called in to write a letter to the editor was: “What’s the word limit?”
Few ever sent in a letter to the editor that was as short as a Tweet. Today, some people take to Twitter and write a few words that are hard to decipher, with misspellings and atrocious punctuation use.
Others write long, well-thought dissertations on Facebook, with every comma, semi-colon, and period tidily in place, their posts better thought out than many research papers. (I often have to wonder how they constantly manage to do this at 10:30 a.m. on a workday, and then have time to counter their friends’ opposing view by lunch.)
Both groups of social media users have the benefit (or the curse) of being instantly published the moment they hit “enter.”
As a former newspaper person, it somewhat pains me to admit that social media has managed to accomplish something that many traditional forms of media have not done. Social media has done more than just tell us what our friends had for dinner or what movie they’re watching tonight.
Social media has enabled us all to have a much more noticeable voice in society, and it has exposed us much more to the beliefs and viewpoints of others.