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Quite the World, Isn't It?

Social networking, and how we get our news

As many of you know, I teach journalism part-time at Chapman University here in southern California, and as the news spun last week about the killing of Osama bin Laden, I conducted an exercise in class that feeds directly into a new report on how we get our news online.

The report by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, called "Navigating News Online," offers an interesting analysis of how we navigate the web in search of news. Not surprisingly, most of us happen upon articles by chance, or as the result of a specific search. But the report also notes the growing role of social networking, such as Facebook, in directing people to articles or blog posts (so yes, "share" this).

I teach two sections of "Journalism: Theory and Practice," this semester, with a total of 30 students. In each class last week, I asked each student how he or she first learned of Bin Laden's reported death. Almost all heard it through social media -- Facebook and Twitter - or from text alerts they had subscribed to that fed directly to their phones, or in conversations with friends. Only one saw it first on a news site; they all knew about the reported death within an hour or so of the initial reports.

What did they do after hearing the news? Almost to a person, they went to sites maintained by the New York Times, CNN and other mainstream media outlets, or turned their televisions to major networks or channels, to get the details.

So what does this tell us? That social media is revolutionizing how we learn about news events. But then we go to the old guard sources to find out the details. I find this heartening. In a sense, journalism isn't dying, it is getting a jump-start from social media, and remains the foundation upon which significant information flows.

Now if the business-side folks could just figure out how to make money from that, maybe we can reverse this long trend of less and less, and start shoring up an institution critical to our democracy.
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