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Social Networks Bring Tragic Story to National Media


By now, most of you have heard of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.  The New York Times published an article by Brian Stelter on March 25, that discusses some of the story, but also why the story took weeks to gain national attention.  According to his article, Stelter maps out the progression of the growth of attention from the date the tragedy occurred, Feb. 26, to the time it finally achieved a national audience around March 16 and thereafter.

Stelter states, “It was not until mid-March, after word spread on Facebook and Twitter, that the shooting of Trayvon by George Zimmerman, 26, was widely reported by the national news media, highlighting the complex ways that news does and does not travel in the Internet age.”

The article suggests that race may have played a role in how slowly the story spread, but also that social media, as quoted above, played an intricate role.  Stelter interviewed colleagues who recalled having followers on Twitter ask them what they were going to say about this story.  While it was picked up locally and state-wide within a week, it wasn’t until users of social media got a hold of it and spread the word, did the story gain the momentum needed to hit the national arena.

Folks, we live in an age where information is literally at our fingertips, available twenty-four-seven.  And yet, even during these times, stories like this, somehow fall through the media cracks.

It’s interesting that the power of social media and the internet is proving itself repeatedly, and in so many ways.  Wikileaks, the Arab Spring and now, the tragic end of a teenager’s life, which otherwise may have gone untold.

As journalists we are right to be mindful and skeptical of social media “news” and user-generated content.  It’s proper that we don’t take this information at face value without verification.  But there is one more aspect of this new media that we should never ignore:  that it is powered largely by the people.  The same people we want to inform.  The same people we have chosen to become sentinels for.  The same people who make up the democracy we try desperately to protect through our freedoms of speech.

In a sense, national media failed in these past few weeks, and it took action by average citizens to open the eyes of the watchdog.

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