I hate to break it to you, but Ashton Kutcher is not a journalist. Although he actively uses Twitter and beat CNN in the race to 1 million followers back in April*, he is not contributing to the world of news.
But he sure thinks so. In a YouTube video he said that this accomplishment “signifies the turning of the tide from traditional news outlets to social media outlets, social news outlets.”
(To get to the point, start at 2:06)
A Change in Medium, Not in Source
There is undeniably a shift in the way people are obtaining information, but the web isn’t the end of journalism as we know it. People will always want and need the news.
Kutcher goes on to say that sites like Twitter and Facebook are making average people “the source of the news.” In truth, it empowers people to disseminate and analyze the news, but rarely are they the source.
As Steve Outing said in his article, “What Bloggers Can Learn From Journalists,” bloggers rarely do original reporting. “They comment on the work of others, or write about personal experiences,” he said.
Traditional News is Still Bigger
Now, there’s nothing wrong with social networking or blogging, but claiming that they are taking the place of traditional news and reporting is laughable.
“I think it’s a huge statement about social media for one person to actually have the ability to broadcast to as many people as a major media network,” Kutcher said.
It would be a huge statement, if it were true. Although their Twitter numbers are comparable, CNN captured over double that number during Larry King last night alone.
When you consider the network news, one million followers pales next to the 7.620 million total viewers NBC Nightly News reeled in last week. The evening news on ABC also came in above 7 million viewers, and CBS above 5 million.
To make a more direct comparison, look at Oprah. According to her website, her talk show brings in an estimated 44 million viewers a week in the United States. She currently has over 2 million followers on Twitter. That is only 4.5% of her viewers.
It seems to me that social networking, social news, and blogging aren’t taking over the current media, but they are a useful appendage to it.
The web has helped people connect to their news in a more convenient and personal way. Everyone can feel involved with the news instead of being a passive bystander. The great thing is that with that deeper connection, people will want to learn more.
Ultimately, this will lead them straight back to where they’ve always obtained their news: Journalists. The news may be presented in a different medium, but it is still coming from the same sector.
This fact is especially clear with the social news sites like Digg.com. The news you see can be personalized and commented on, but the stories originate from the websites of traditional news outlets, like magazines and newspapers.
Ironically, Ashton Kutcher—and others who share his opinion—is rebelling against the very thing that supports his cause. Without journalism there would be no social news. Social networking would be just for talking to friends. Blogging would be nothing more than a journal.
I wonder how many followers he would have received if this race hadn’t been covered by traditional news.
*I admit this news is a little old, but I felt that the opinions expressed in the video are commonly held today and therefore it still seemed relevant for this piece.