Journalists Will Win the Breakup
I want to take a break from the Caster blog’s regularly scheduled program of PR tips and tech trend analysis to say something that I thought was blindingly obvious, but is apparently very confusing to a lot of social media executives: reporters are good, and we should support them.
Last week was dark for journalism. Elon Musk finally made good on his threat to strip those who don’t pay for Twitter Blue of their verified check marks. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Buzzfeed News declared defeat in its fight to bring free investigative reporting to social media networks. Through ad models designed to siphon revenues away from content creators, Twitter bans on links out to Substack, and removal of markers of legitimacy, platform leaders are sending a clear message to journalists: we don’t need you. They are so, so wrong.
Musk and his peers are betting that they can just rely on their customers to perform the free labor of filling their platforms with content. Well, buddy, you get what you pay for. Average people – and even killer PR pros like us – cannot do what reporters can do. We cannot dedicate months to peeling back every layer of complicated issues to distill their true causes and ramifications. We cannot enlist a legion of fact-checkers to ensure everything we print is verifiable and accurate. We cannot offer an objective, reliable, and comprehensive perspective on breaking news and current events. We cannot chase a story wherever it goes, cultivating sources, embedding in communities, and uncovering the truth in all its nuance, ugliness, and glory. This is all expert labor, inimitable by anyone without journalistic training and a full-time calling to the profession.
I’m looking for every opportunity to support the profession that gives my profession meaning – and not incidentally, makes life in a free society possible.
Social media is going to miss journalism when it’s gone. I, however, will follow the reporters out the door—because frankly, what they have to say is infinitely more interesting and useful than my Facebook feed full of MLM pitches from my high school classmates or “for you” posts from Elon Musk schilling dogecoin. I’m subscribing to Patreons and Substacks. I’m watching the emerging social platform space to see where journalists are best being served. I’m looking for every opportunity to support the profession that gives my profession meaning – and not incidentally, makes life in a free society possible.
I am going to miss social media as a useful news aggregator. With journalists leading the conversation, platforms like Twitter were a true marketplace of ideas. You could follow trends, find a wide variety of expert perspectives, and pretty easily sort the valuable goods from the random detritus. Without them, it’s going to be a flea market: more junk than gems, and a whole lot of yelling with very little communication.
It might be too late for some of the legacy social platforms to reverse course on how they’ve treated journalists and news outlets. If so, they’re going to lose cultural relevance. We don’t yet know how they’ll be replaced, but they will be: We wouldn’t be seeing so many new Twitter competitors if these scrappy social startups didn’t smell blood in the water. We may be looking at an era of micro-platforms, where journalists and their audiences disperse across the social networks that meet their needs best. That will mean a whole new ballgame for social media strategy, highly targeted and labor-intensive. It’s worth it, though. I know whose company I want to keep.