What Role Will Develop in Social Media to Replace Traditional Editors?


There is a lot of controversy lately regarding the role of social media in journalism.  Traditional journalistic standards require a process of vetting and fact-checking that is not required in social media.  With the popularity of blogging and iReporting, anyone can report on a topic or event at any time.

This has both positive and negative consequences.  News stories can break faster with more minute-to-minute detail than before.  We no longer have to wait for a reporter to show up on the scene and transmit his broadcast to us; witnesses can instantly upload images and video to the internet.

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan is a good example of this.  However, the negative aspect is in the lack of fact-checking that occurs in social media.  Anyone can post anything they want and claim that it is a fact.  Someone could have uploaded images from Japan but claimed that they were in Taiwan, causing panic and confusion for many families.

Historically, an editor would check the facts of a story before releasing it to the public.  Now that is often not the case.

Who or what will replace editors in the brave new world of social media?  Unfortunately, the public must be more wary than ever of what they consider ‘news’.  Most blogs, iReports and social media sources should be considered potentially no more reliable than a tabloid newspaper running stories of UFO sightings.  Traditional news sources, such as the Wall Street Journal or ABC news, will still need an editorial staff to sift through the facts before releasing the information to the public.

In fact, this profession may become more important than ever.  While people are interested in blogs, opinions, and iReports, they also still want the hard news.  As social media continues to expand, I think that consumers will need to become savvier than ever at recognizing what is ‘real news’ and what is rumor, lies or speculation.

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Read more about the future of social media on this social media blog.

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  1. Hi Tricia,

    An approximation of a social media editor already exist in the form of thought leaders or trust agents in specific areas of expertise or niche interest. Robert Scoble might be an obvious example in the area of technology innovation. He performs a similar role of a traditional editor, with the key difference that he is not a salaried employee following an editorial line. They have a massive advantage in this respect: they are independent, often have no stake other than their reputations and are passionate enthusiasts for what they do.

    There’s a reason why people like Scoble happened. It is because people have long understood that media organisations – even those that carry prestige brands – are politicized and commercialized entities, where promotion of ideological and commercial interests have long ago overtaken the need to serve the people news. The fact checking that you argue for has been conspicuously absent when we – the people – have needed it most.

    Indeed, it’s arguable that the very existence of ‘editors’ – what are they but censors by another name? – is an anathema to ‘news’ itself. Who’s facts are being checked? Who’s stories are making it to the list? What’s been left on the cutting room floor? Probably quite a good deal of stuff that mattered. People want to know what’s going on, and old media’s collusion with power has damaged its credibility to deliver on this pretty simple demand.

    The future of editors-as-salaried-employees of media organisations? There is none, and good riddance. Social news may be bullshit, but at least it’s our bullshit.

    Best wishes


  2. Tricia Torres

    Good points, thanks for the input! After working for several years in the newspaper industry, I can confirm that editors wield a lot of power in deciding which facts and which stories are released. Sometimes these decisions reflect their own bias, or that of the media agency that they work for. However, I think editors still have their place in checking the ‘who, what, when, where and why’ facts of the story, particularly in mainstream news organizations. (Maybe not so much the ‘why’, since that’s more subjective). Social media has added a valuable layer of transparency and reality to the news. As consumers, the main point is that we have to be wary of where we get our news from and what we accept as fact.

  3. This story highlights a key trend and shift in the way news is published and distributed with a valid critique on some potential pitfalls ahead.

    Good points.