News is changing and fast. Most of the national print titles are losing money and the shift to digital opens up new opportunities for engagement. Take BuzzFeed – it’s one of the fastest growing websites of the moment and it makes money. Its success is down to the ruthless focus on what users will share on social media networks. In between the images, lists and `20 essential things you need to know’ there is serious news and like it or not, it’s what people are reading.
Behind the scenes BuzzFeed has sophisticated metrics to inform headlines and angles. Data on what is most shared and read is what informs new content and how it’s approached. The same is true for most digital outlets. The rapid rise of social media is shaping the news and is increasingly informing what more traditional media cover. This brings many opportunities to shape the media from the bottom up.
Take the example of teenager Stephen Sutton who raised more than £5 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust through his courageous Facebook posts and bucket list of things to do before he died. When something captures the public’s attention, it can go viral and the impact can be huge.
Alongside the rapid rise of social media is a more worrying trend – `churnalism'. The phrase is used by Nick Davies, the journalist who uncovered the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World, in Flat Earth News. The book exposes the `falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the global media’.
It’s an important read, not least because it shows how lazy many journalists are. Press releases are taken at face value, facts left unchecked and statistics not interrogated. It’s a depressing take on my profession and of course, there are many good journalists out there. However, it shows that with the right story, it can be far too easy to manipulate and shape the media agenda.
The more social work understands these trends, the more influence it can have. The focus on positive stories alone won’t garner more good press for the profession. The sector needs to be savvier on working out what people are reading, not what they think they should be reading, or what you want them to read. Only then can social work make the best of the many opportunities for raising its profile.