Social Media and the Press
70 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2012 Last revised: 6 Jan 2013
Date Written: 2012
The Internet and social media are transforming journalism, news, and the audience as we knew them. Much of the discourse about these developments has been led by new-media triumphalists. By contrast, this Article seeks to provide a more nuanced and balanced view. It takes as a given the influence of social media on journalism, and seeks to identify the particular kinds of dangers that flow from that influence in order to inoculate the modern press against them.
Social networking has already led to changes in: (1) newsgathering and dissemination practices, (2) the expectations and engagement of the audience, (3) traditional journalistic output and professional norms of neutrality, and (4) the institutional role and power of the press. These changes have had consequences for reporting standards, for journalistic goals of accuracy, completeness, contextualization, accountability, for the vigor of investigative journalism, and for the power of press institutions. Simply put, social media have invited important challenges to the democracy-supporting, watchdog role of the press.
Changing journalistic practices may lead to heightened legal liability for defamation or invasion of privacy claims against the press. In addition, legislative and administrative developments that privilege privacy and consumer protection over press economics may have the inadvertent effect of deterring free, high quality news production. Perhaps most importantly, concerns about press responsibility and the difficulty of defining the press in the new environment are likely to set back attempts to (1) promote a revival of the First Amendment's Press Clause and (2) pass a federal reporter's privilege.
These developments press against the power and effectiveness of the press. This Article argues that without waging a Luddite war on the new, participatory journalism out of misplaced nostalgia for the heyday of the daily newspaper, we nevertheless need to focus on ways to shore up the function of the accountability press.
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