You Have So Much More Power Over “The Media” Than You Realize

Yesterday, Vox Media published an article by Max Fisher that literally made me cheer — which was awkward because I was alone in my room with a cat. The article, titled “Did the media ignore the Beirut bombings? Or did readers?” put into words a lot of what I was feeling while reading various status updates about how “the media” totally ignored the bombings in Beirut, while making a huge deal out of the attack in France.

It’s really, really good and you should read it. In fact, read it twice.

Being that I spend a huge amount of my time each day reading the news in order to figure out what to write about, I was well aware that “the media” didn’t ignore the Beirut story. I saw several articles about it, actually. I didn’t cover it because it’s not so much our purview here at The Frisky, but I certainly knew about it. It’s always sort of hard and frustrating to hear this kind of criticism, though, when you have the ability to look at traffic stats through Google Analytics and see that as much as people may talk about how they want more serious news, that’s not what they’re reading.

I’ve seen this same thing happen with loads of other stories, many of which I have actually covered. It’s frustrating, to say the least. Frankly, a lot of what people mean when they say something has been “ignored” is that it hasn’t turned up in their social media newsfeed, which is where a lot of people get their news these days. Even if they don’t, the stories that trend online, and show up on front pages and in Google News and Reddit’s front page, have a lot more to do with what “the people” think is important than with what we, “the media,” think is important.

This has its ups and downs. For one, there are stories that otherwise might have been ignored that get picked up and become “big things” because they attract a lot of attention online. Many of these are really important things.

The best example of this, by far, has been Black Twitter and the Black Lives Matter movement. By demanding that stories of police brutality and systemic racism be told, be covered, and be treated like they are important, by not dropping stories once they’ve had their time in the news cycle sun, by saying, “Nope, sorry, not letting this one slide by unnoticed,” they have had a massive impact on the media itself. And it’s glorious. I love it.

On the downside, however, is the fact that a lot of the stuff that does well on social is not the stuff that’s especially important. It’s a lot of “weird news” kinds of things and other fluff. That’s the stuff that really gets shared and passed around.

This is totally fine, I think, actually. Because we all need a break from life and the horrors of reality. But just because you’re looking at your news feed and only seeing that content, doesn’t mean it’s all the media is covering. It means it’s what your friends are choosing to share.

Let’s talk about how your social media news feed sausage is made. I run The Frisky’s Facebook page, so I’ve got some insights on this. Say you subscribe to our Facebook feed (which you should because we are awesome and you love us) or another site’s Facebook feed. You’re not going to get every story we or they post in your news feed. If we post something and a ton of people click on it and interact with it (liking, commenting, etc.) it’s more likely that Facebook will show that post to you. If people just ignore it, Facebook isn’t going to show it to as many people.

Which, of course, is the grand irony of commenting “WHO CARES?” on a Facebook post. By commenting that alone, you are basically telling Facebook “More of this please!” because that’s how their algorithm works. If you go around commenting “And I’m supposed to care why?” on every article about Kim Kardashian, you are likely to end up with a whole feed of Kardashian-related news. If you like, comment or share things about politics, human rights, or kittens, then that is what Facebook will choose to show you posts about.

To boot, a serious piece about, say, how the decline of unions has affected income inequality in America is just not going to do as well on Facebook as something that has the word “dick” somewhere in the headline. Those of us who work in the media understand this, and try to strike a balance. Still, it’s a constant source of frustration for us on the other side of things. Facebook has us in a vice-grip, and we’ve gotta feed the beast.

The cool thing about living in this era, though, is that you really do have the opportunity to affect what “the media” covers in a way people have never had before. You are the ones who make stories “big stories.” Not us. By sharing articles, talking about current events online with your friends, and yes, “clicking,” you let us know what you think is important, and that affects what we end up covering.

If you want the truth, a lot of the time when I can’t find anything I think I should write about, I check to see what’s trending on Facebook and Twitter, what’s on Reddit’s front page, to see what people are talking about and caring about at that moment in time.

The fact is, the term “mainstream media” is getting less and less relevant these days. Why? Because there is so much goddamned media. THERE’S SO MUCH. Most people aren’t just getting all their info from the nightly news report these days, but from hundreds and hundreds of online media sources, both big and small. Looking at my Feedly RSS reader right now, there have been over 3,900 articles published within the last 24 hours by the feeds I subscribe to alone. That is a heck of a lot of articles. Some of those are going to be things people really pay attention to and grab onto, some will fall to the wayside and maybe only be read by 100 people. But there’s a ton to choose from, and trust, if it’s a thing, someone is writing about it. The “mainstream media” is a democracy now, in a way it never has been before.

You have so much power. Yes, you. There’s only so much “the media” can do to get you to pay attention to a story–it’s not really possible to write headlines that say “NO SERIOUSLY YOU SHOULD READ THIS RIGHT NOW” in bright neon or jump up and down and yell at you to read them–so you do have some obligation to search out the stories you want to read about yourself.

Do a Google News search for things you’re interested in. Open up a Feedly account. Go on Reddit and subscribe to subreddits that cover news you’re interested in, and upvote them when it’s something you like. Find news sources and specific journalists and writers that you like and trust, who are writing about the kinds of things you want to know about. Share those stories with your friends on social media, talk about them, start a damned hashtag if that’s your thing. Hell, you could even start your own blog or vlog or whatever. You have a voice, you have power, use it.