The newspaper reporter now has the worst job in America, according to Career Cast. Papers are folding, jobs dwindling. Even newspapers like the New York Times are turning to Facebook to attract readers.
The Times will soon start posting stories directly on Facebook and not just rely on links to attract readers.
Facebook is now the world’s biggest news network with 1.39 billion monthly active users as of January 2015. That’s more than one out of four people in the world, more than the estimated 1.25 billion population of India.
Even some of the biggest names in the newspaper business have become small potatoes compared with the digital media.
Facebook paid $19 billion for WhatsApp. And how much did Jeff Bezos pay for the Washington Post? $250 million. So WhatsApp cost 76 times as much as the Washington Post. The newspaper that unseated President Nixon.
WhatsApp is used by half a million people in the world. That made it more valuable than the Post.
The Post delivers the big news we wouldn’t be able to get on our own.
WhatsApp is for chatting with friends, sharing information important only to us.
But that’s what matters most, things important to us.
It’s not that we don’t want the news. But we can get the news and also catch up with friends on Facebook and Twitter. No wonder they are more popular than any news site.
Social media has changed the news business. Let’s look at three Singapore stories that received wide coverage: the death of Lee Kuan Yew, the charges against Amos Yee, and the maths puzzle Primary 5 pupils were asked to solve: “When is Cheryl’s birthday?”
Here are the results of my Google News search:
- 10,700 search results in 0.23 seconds for Amos Yee
- 2,220,000 search results in 0.31 seconds for Lee Kuan Yew
- 22,300,000 in 0.31 seconds for the Singapore math question.
Amos Yee received the least coverage, but his story did appear in publications like the New York Times and the New Yorker.
Source of information
Only one of the three stories, about Lee Kuan Yew, was first reported by both the English and Chinese mainstream media.
Amos Yee’s troubles started with a YouTube video he posted ranting against Lee Kuan Yew and Christianity.
The question about Cheryl’s birthday first appeared on Facebook, posted there by the Hello Singapore TV host Kenneth Kong.
So two of the three stories originated in social media and only one in traditional media.
Two more things to note:
- Google News found more stories about the maths puzzle than about Lee Kuan Yew.
- Stories can spread like wildfire on social media. British newspapers reported the maths puzzle on the same day as the Straits Times. Kenneth Kong posted the question about Cheryl’s birthday on Facebook on April 11. “The post was shared more than 4,500 times,” the Straits Times reported on April 13. The same day the news appeared in the Guardian, Telegraph and the Independent.
That shows the power of social media — and some are worried. The Columbia Journal Review published an article on April 13 expressing concern about the power of Facebook. “Facebook has more power in determining who can speak and who can be heard around the globe than any Supreme Court justice, any king or any president,” said law professor and blogger Jeffrey Rosen in 2010. And he was right, wrote Trevor Timm in his article.
Facebook filters the news, said Timm. You don’t get to see everything shared by your friends and Pages you like.
That is true, according to Facebook itself. It says:
Every time someone visits News Feed there are on average 1,5001 potential stories from friends, people they follow and Pages for them to see, and most people don’t have enough time to see them all. These stories include everything from wedding photos posted by a best friend, to an acquaintance checking in to a restaurant.
With so many stories, there is a good chance people would miss something they wanted to see if we displayed a continuous, unranked stream of information. Our ranking isn’t perfect, but in our tests, when we stop ranking and instead show posts in chronological order, the number of stories people read and the likes and comments they make decrease.
So how does News Feed by listening to feedback. When a user likes something, that tells News Feed that they want to see more of it; when they hide something, that tells News Feed to display less of that content in the future. This allows us to prioritize an average of 300 stories out of these 1,500 stories to show each day.
The News Feed algorithm responds to signals from you, including, for example:
How often you interact with the friend, Page, or public figure (like an actor or journalist) who posted.
The number of likes, shares and comments a post receives from the world at large and from your friends in particular.
How much you have interacted with this type of post in the past.
Whether or not you and other people across Facebook are hiding or reporting a given post.
Facebook says it gives you what you like. But you don’t know what you are missing. That worries a journalist like Matthew Ingram. He writes: “Facebook as a news source is a concern not just for media outlets, but for individual users as well: the functioning of the Facebook algorithm — the way it chooses which things to show you and which to hide — is so arcane that many users aren’t even aware that it is occurring. And so the view they have of the world is being distorted in some way, but they don’t really have any idea how or why.”
Facebook filters reduce the clutter, true. As Facebook said in November last year:
One of the main reasons people come to Facebook is to see what’s happening in their News Feeds. Our goal with News Feed has always been to show people the things they want to see…
People told us they wanted to see more stories from friends and Pages they care about, and less promotional content…
So Facebook made changes to the news feed.
It could censor other content, too, worries a journalist like Trevor Timm. He recalls: “The New Yorker was famously banned from Facebook for a short period in 2012 for posting a cartoon with a tiny bit of nudity in it.”
When we open Facebook, we see a simple, endless scroll of pictures and messages posted by friends. We can’t see how it’s assembled, a fiendishly complex process.
And your news feed is determined not only by what you like. Facebook adds its own twist.
Lars Backstrom, engineering manager for news feed ranking at Facebook, estimates that there are as many as “100,000 individual weights in the model that produces the news feed”.
He adds: “If we show an update to 100 users, but only a couple of them interact with it, we may not show it in your News Feed. But if a lot of people are interacting with it, we might decide to show it to you, too,” he adds.
So Facebook decides what you see, not you.
Of course, you are allowed to have some say. “The news feed algorithm takes into account the type of posts that each user tends to like. Users that often interact with photo posts are more likely to see more photo posts in the news feed, and users that tend to click more on links will see more posts with links,” says Marketing Land, which spoke to Backstrom.
Newspapers and news sites can’t be as personalized as Facebook. No wonder they aren’t as popular as the social network.
1. Actuary $94,209
2. Audiologist $71,133
3. Mathematician $102,182
4. Statistician $79,191
5. Biomedical engineer $89,165
6. Data scientist $124,149
7. Dental hygienist $71,102
8. Software engineer $93,113
9. Occupational therapist $77,114
10. Computer systems analyst $81,150
200. Newspaper Reporter $36,267
199. Lumberjack $34,110
198. Enlisted military personnel $28,840
197. Cook $42,208
196. Broadcaster $55,380
195. Photojournalist $29,267
194. Corrections officer $39,163
193. Taxi driver $23,118
192. Firefighter $45,264
191. Mail carrier $41,068
(Courtesy Jim Romenesko)