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All about the UX: How the internet has changed what’s newsworthy

As I write this, I’m multitasking: I ruminate about what I want to say in this month’s column while I browse the latest updates on Google News, Google Trends, and Twitter’s trending topics to find a story to write for U.S.-based website The Daily Dot

Among the latest stories I find are about U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest Twitter tirade, how social media companies were unable to scrub livestream footage of the New Zealand mosque shooting fast enough, the Kardashians’ latest Instagram posts, and a YouTuber getting roasted on Twitter for something disturbing he said about his cat years ago.

These news headlines have been commonplace for the past few years, no one would even think to do a double-take upon encountering them on their newsfeed. Yet 16 years ago, the year Speed was established, none of these stories would make sense to anyone.

While we already had Google, it wasn’t until 15 years ago that we had Facebook, 14 years ago when we had YouTube, 12 years when we had Twitter, and less than a decade since Instagram went live. And it hasn’t been over a decade since social media and the internet not only became everyone’s primary source of news as they happen, they also became the subject of such news stories on a regular basis.

What counts as news these days is a lot more diverse than it used to be. Reports about crime and corruption remain, yet they’re found alongside a new type of bad news: online hate directed against people (famous or otherwise) for things like their weight, fashion choices, political views, religion, race, etc.; and ordinary people doing stupid things like risking their lives for a selfie or shooting videos at forbidden spots just to go viral and become “insta-famous.”

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News stories about memes, makeup tutorials gone wrong, and a nobody’s viral racist rant are sharing valuable eyeball time with extensive reports on climate change, human rights violations, gun laws, and inflation, among other more pressing issues affecting the world.

In a post on Medium.com, Atlantic Media Strategies (The Atlantic magazine’s digital consultancy) listed the seven news values that help journalists determine what content is newsworthy: timeliness; proximity to the community who will read about it; impact on a greater number of people; prominence or involving a person of public interest; relevance; oddity; and conflict

It seems too many news stories on the internet these days don’t even have these, save perhaps for timeliness, oddity, and conflict. What ever happened to relevance, impact, and prominence, when everyone and their mother can make it to the news for a ridiculous online stunt that’s clickbait? The internet has also made the world smaller, so proximity has become relative.

Not only has the internet changed what’s newsworthy, how people react to the news and everything on the internet has now become newsworthy, too. Thanks to social media, reporters don’t even need to actually head out to get man-on-street reactions for their stories. Just a quick browse on a related hashtag on Twitter or even a post on Facebook or Instagram will yield tweets and comments that now count as vox populi.

Media supposedly has the power to determine what’s newsworthy, and with that power is the responsibility to report what needs to be reported in a fair, unbiased, and comprehensive manner. Yet as digital publishing companies depend on website and social media numbers to generate income through increasing pageviews, visits, reach, and engagement, aren’t these companies becoming controlled by what readers would tend to click on the most rather than what truly deserves eyeball time?

Even more so, social media companies have the power and responsibility to prevent fake news and online hate from spreading and reaching more eyeballs. Instead of solely for profit, they must use their algorithms to push forward more valuable and reliable content from sources that can be trusted. Unfortunately, we have yet to really see these companies successfully—rather, sincerely—do this.

And so it comes down to readers: Assert your power to shape what’s newsworthy and use it responsibly. Choose to eyeball and share content about sustainable lifestyles, social enterprises that deserve our support, and how corrupt government officials are twisting the law for their gain while the public foots the bill so we are better equipped to speak up. Learn to differentiate what’s fake news and propaganda from the kind of content that seeks to uncover the truth. The kind of internet content you consume more of is the kind of content you’ll continue to get. Now more than ever, readers have the responsibility to regard the news on the internet with great scrutiny.

This story was originally published in Speed Magazine’s March 2019 issue. Words Trixie Reyna-Benedicto.

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