There was a time when people bought and read newspapers. Their lives revolved around news and opinions found in newspapers, whether these were broadsheets or racy tabloids with huge pinup posters of undressed women.
They usually consulted newspapers about what Hollywood or local movies to watch until Rotten Tomatoes came on the internet, or where to dine and what food to eat in fancy restaurants until crowdsourcing became popular.
The internet has changed people’s lives. But social media has further radicalized how people consume information on the internet.
Speaking before the Society of Editors in London in early May, journalist Ros Atkins said the “degree of disruption the internet has brought to our information ecosystem is so total, so huge, so unknown in many ways that we can’t expect anything other than a constant need to change.”
People’s media consumption habits have changed — from linear TV to streaming, from print to digital, from branded digital destinations to social.
The recent presidential elections showed how social media has taken over the legacy media’s role as the primary source of information.
An opinion poll showed that about 50 percent of Filipinos are turning to social media platforms when getting information in deciding on who to vote in the elections.
Television news accounts for only 40 percent and what is so shocking is that only 1 percent of Filipinos get news and information from the print media.
Print is dead. Nobody buys and reads newspapers. The number of newspapers’ pages are getting thinner. People prefer to read the news on their screens, whether on their laptops, tablets, or mobile phones.
But they no longer go to news websites. They browse on social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, and Tiktok. Social media is faster than breaking news reported in television and radio.
Everyone on social media has become an instant journalist, reporting events they see on the streets, sharing what they hear from friends, neighbors, and relatives, and more dangerously, passing unverified information that could create panic or destroy someone’s reputation.
Disinformation spreading on social media has become a larger threat to society. It breaks relationships and divides the society. It could lead to chaos and confusion. It could plunge a country into instability. It could destroy democracy.
Sadly, some governments, including the Philippines, have been allowing disinformation to spread and allowing hate messages in social media to erode legacy media’s credibility.
Some governments encourage vicious attacks on legacy media, demolishing public trust in journalism and declaring journalists as enemies of the state.
Many young journalists fear the attacks on press freedom could escalate under the incoming government of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. due to the shabby treatment of legacy media during the campaign period.
Journalists asking legitimate questions were ignored and were even shoved by burly security men during chance or ambush interviews.
Vloggers and social media influencers were given priority and unrestricted access and were praised by Bongbong Marcos’ campaign staff as “the only reliable and truthful sources of information”.
Bongbong and his spokesman, Vic Rodriguez, had also evaded tough questions from journalists but entertained softer questions from “friendly” reporters from some commercial and religious broadcast networks.
Journalists face a situation worse than during the late dictator’s regime when newspapers, radio, and television stations were shut down and a crony press was set up to report only on glowing achievements of the government.
But this should not deter journalists from doing their jobs in the interest of public good. They could turn these obstacles into opportunities to highlight the importance of a free and open press in a democracy.
Journalists must work together and push back the government’s attacks but at the same time find ways to restore its credibility and regain public trust.
Journalism needs retooling. It should constantly innovate to capture people’s interest and trust. Journalists must listen to the audience.
Journalists must always be factually correct and fair, and come up with fresh, good, and compelling story ideas. They should work closely with effective content creators in social media to beat social media micro influencers and ordinary vloggers.
The battleground of ideas are no longer on newspapers, radio, and television but on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Tiktok, and other social media platforms.
Journalists must also be faster and quicker as lightning if they want to compete and defeat disinformation and propaganda.
It may take time for the people to realize they were duped and fooled by purveyors of false information but journalists must not wait for that to happen.
They should step up and fight disinformation, continuously engaging the public. They should not retreat and surrender.
Fight for press freedom, fight disinformation and take back the narrative from government’s propaganda.
Always be reminded of the public interest. Journalists must not shirk from their responsibility to protect democracy.