Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
A sensational headline. A heart-wrenching image. We can’t look away. We can’t resist clicking. And click, we look, we like—and voila—we have just helped shape today’s news cycle. Without even realizing, we have just been swept up in our own News Vacuum.
In many cases, a seemingly obscure event goes viral in a matter of minutes. How did it happen? Why did it happen?
The Rise of the News Vacuum
For most of us in this rapid-pace, binge-prone, content-obsessed era—does it really even matter? The world has a voracious appetite for a continuous stream of juicy new content. Cat videos are nice, but nothing beats the passion of today’s political news. All the better if the news conforms with our dogma and we don’t have to think outside our worldview and perhaps damage a few brain cells in the process.
As a society, we largely don’t even care about whether the news is true, fake, a hoax, satire or something else—we figure the folks at Snopes and similar organizations will sort those things at some point, assuming the news event is controversial enough and is deemed worth investigating. We tell ourselves that even with their inherent human biases, they will sorta get close to the bottom of whatever is the truth (and many times we actually believe what we are telling ourselves). It may be several days down the road, well after the news has run its course, but hey, someone, somewhere will eventually try to figure it out.
But, what just happened? What is happening to our news cycle and the way news is distributed? Why did I see the news I am seeing, but my friends and family either didn’t see the news or their take on the event was so completely different as to almost sound as if we are talking about two completely different news events? And who is making the decisions on what is considered news? And what part, if any, do we each play in the news we see?
To understand what’s happening, we first need to understand the various players, their roles in today’s news cycle, and a new player that is fundamentally changing the way news is disseminated.
|News Sources||Generates original news content on event|
|Influencers - social media personalities||Amplifies news/content deemed worthy (due to a personal passion, paid, other)|
|Mainstream Media - Local/National cable, tv, newspapers, news aggregators||Gives credibility to news/content|
|General Public||Consumers of news/content|
|Social Media & Other Platforms||Serve as accessible town square or message boards—open to all voices, regardless of credibility or intention|
In the past, the Mainstream Media would determine what was news and present or print it accordingly. Notwithstanding any biases, Mainstream Media entities drove what the public saw, heard, read or understood to be the news. The Mainstream Media could shape the news content to some extent, but they were largely determining what was considered news and what wasn’t newsworthy. They had the reporters, staff and personnel who would cover events, create the content and publish or present the news. However, the entire news business model has been disrupted—starting with the way the news is collected, who determines what is “news” and how the news is reported.
The news cycle model is changing right before our eyes. No longer does the mainstream media determine what is newsworthy. Yes, they can select what they report as news; however, even what they deem as non-newsworthy can quickly dominate the news cycle.
How And Why Is This Happening??
It’s the story of the emerging new news cycle and the roles of a new player called the Influencer and how their followers amplify the news and drive the news cycle. These individuals are well-known in industries like retail, sports and more—where a popular athlete or personality can tweet, post, or do videos on the products for which they are paid. It’s simply a newish form of advertising. Nothing particularly enlightening on that bit of information.
However, what’s gone largely unreported is that a very similar business model is taking shape in the newsworld. The new news cycle is shown below—where the role of reporters and editors has largely shifted to original news source content creators, the influencers and amplifiers, leaving the mainstream media in many cases in a position of reacting or simply reporting what has already been determined to be the trending news.
The new news cycle can be captured in the following diagram:
Some enterprising online entrepreneurs or sometimes simply people with a passionate belief in a particular view of the political world have been building large and growing online communities of followers.
These individuals have a near zero marginal cost of doing business and a virtually limitless audience for their messages. Their goals may be to articulate their beliefs better than what they think anyone else is doing, it may be to transform the world or their country, or may be something as mundane as generating revenue from advertising that can come with high volumes of web traffic.
Example of the News Vacuum In Action
Here’s a recent example of how the news cycle has been thoroughly disrupted.
- An activist organization holds a protest event, with accompanying video and news article—this is the “source” of the news.
- The event is sparsely attended, but that is not particularly relevant. The main objective of the organization and their PR agency is to get the news content associated with the event to the right “influencers” in social media who would be predisposed to their message.
- Shortly after receiving the news, several leading Influencers tweet, post or link to the original news content. These influencers have followings in the hundreds of thousands and more.
- Within seconds of receiving the tweet/posting alerts, their followers start re-tweeting, reposting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and dozens of other social media sites, amplifying the news content further.
- Throughout the day, these tweets, retweets and re-retweets gain steam and become of the top trending stories of the day.
- It reaches the point where the mainstream media can no longer ignore the story, particularly if it plays to their base or target audience. At that point, the cable news, the local news, the newspapers, the news aggregator sites all start running alerts, headlines or segments on the original news content. Why? It’s now “news” and they have to cover what is considered news by their audiences. As an aside, the Mainstream Media has become a punching bag for many, however, this theory of the new news cycle would point to them being less a driver and more of a fast follower of the news.
- Once the mainstream media runs with the story, it allows the original influencers and all of the amplifiers to link to the mainstream media coverage, providing credibility and serving to generate even more interest, clicks, and views.
- Depending on the politics, the news may have a shelf-life of hours, days, weeks—or even longer.
Importantly, we have self-selected the news “silos” which best align or reinforce our worldview, often shutting out alternative points of view. This has led to the polarized state of affairs in many countries, where virtually any news event quickly becomes viewed through the political lens of whichever news silo or echo chamber to which we subscribe and to whichever Influencers and dogma we follow.
With each click, like, and follow, we continue down a path where the news we are consuming and the views we are developing become more and more closed-minded. Not the greatest recipe for an open exchange of ideas on which democracies depend.