Enough with the attempts to define news. Enough with the mock outrage over a lack of objectivity. Enough with pretending that “social” media is somehow different from its “mainstream” sibling.
It isn’t. Make no mistake: They are siblings, if not identical twins.
That we in the ancient media of print and television ever tolerated the term “social media” is something of a grim miracle. It’s hard to imagine other professions that would tolerate such a mangling of the terminology of its trade. Or that the public would so wholeheartedly embrace the mauling.
How many businesses or people, for instance, would hazard a flight on a plane steered by a “social pilot?” How many would reserve gurney time for an appendectomy by a “social surgeon?”
Yet, like running a hotel or driving a taxi, being a journalist has become the province of amateurs. Thanks to blogs and free vomit buckets like Facebook and Twitter, the idea of being published hinges less on linguistic dexterity than determinism.
Take Harris, a neuroscience author of staggering eloquence. In his podcast, website and books, he is quick to lament that “the mainstream media refuses or is unable to see” most issues that underpin our society, from religion to economics to politics. The schism, Harris contends, was a leading contributor to the victory of the Trump administration.
Yet in the same talk or web posting, he will wonder aloud how his podcast became so popular, his Twitter account so swamped with activity.
Just do the math. While podcast numbers are not officially tallied (like Nielsen ratings for TV, and yes, that’s a hint), Harris has been publicly flabbergasted by a podcast following of 400,000 that exceeds all of his book sales — combined. He has 888,000 Twitter followers.
The Washington Post has a circulation of 740,000. While not an apples-to-apples comparison, If Harris’ Twitter fanbase alone were a newspaper, it would be the fifth largest in the nation
He’s hardly alone in the confusion. There isn’t an outlet in America that doesn’t distinguish between “mainstream” and “social” media.
But what is the real difference? The largest newspaper in America is the Wall Street Journal, with a circulation north of 2.4 million. (It’s also owned by Rupert Murdoch, in case critics of a liberal media forgot).
Compare that to Facebook, which functions like any other news outlet, with curated headlines and all-flavored news and feature stories. A recent Pew Research study found that 68% of Americans have accounts on Facebook.
That’s a circulation of 218 million.
The same applies to myriad “social” media sites: Instagram would have a circulation of 89.9 million; Pinterest, 83.5 million; Twitter, 67.4 million.
Even the term in a misnomer. If something qualifies as social media, by definition it is also renting property in MainstreamVille. How do we even claim separation, particularly when the largest news outlet in the United States decided a presidential election? How does it remain spared of fake news claims?
The truth is, media is like pizza. You get what you ordered, or you go out of business. Does anyone honestly lay claim to the notion that “mainstream” media refuses to report real news because it would rather report on Kim Kardashian’s ass? That it wants to secretly slip the public pap, like giving a fussy baby a spoonful of Gerber’s by making an airplane noise?
So let’s ratchet down the vitriol, Mr. Harris, Dawkins, Tyson et al. You’re criticizing a club to which you belong.