Social Networks Trump Traditional News Media

By now you are probably familiar with plane that landed in the Hudson River in New York. If you heard about this breaking story through a mainstream news outlet you may be surprised to learn you were not among the first to hear it.  Amazingly, this story originally broke on Twitter thanks to a passer-by who uploaded the news along with a photo via his iPhone.

While social media is popular, these services were once primarily viewed as entertainment outlets offering little value. Applications such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have slowly gained a widespread reputation as useful communication tools for both business and personal needs. Can these services now become reliable sources for breaking news?

Popular social networks are comprised of millions of users across the world. Thanks to high speed Internet access, wide spread wireless networks and Internet ready smart phones these individuals can communicate their experiences almost instantly, complete with images and videos. Traditional news media cannot complete with the sheer numbers of would-be reports in waiting, especially in the case of sudden news stories.

While this phenomenon may lead you to believe that traditional news media’s days are numbered, there are a few drawbacks that may limit the effectiveness of social media’s reach. For news to be effective it must be both unbiased and accurate. In a social network settings these characteristics are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Numerous stories have been reported inaccurately either by mistake or with malicious intent. And of course, the Internet is full of varying view points. It is difficult to know the motivation of each contributor and how that might influence the report.

Despite these complications, social media is quickly proving its value as an immediate and globally present force.  In the future the question will not be which is better but how can social networks and traditional media outlets work together to provide fast and effective distribution of breaking news.