Nontraditional sources grow in popularity

Karina Belotserkovskiy, News Editor

The newspaper pictured, The New York Times, is an example of a traditional news source. Recently, nontraditional sources such as BuzzFeed and Facebook have been rising in popularity. Photo Illustration by Richard Chu.

For news consumers of a previous generation, a morning routine may have included watching a local TV station or reading a newspaper at the table. A typical morning for senior Hannah Weiss involves opening her email inbox to read theSkimm, an online newsletter that sends its subscribers summarized stories of the day.

“[theSkimm] is easier to understand than other sources,” said Weiss. “They put the stories in terms I know and make fun headlines, which make me more drawn in.”

theSkimm is one example of a nontraditional news source, alongside digital media companies like BuzzFeed, online publications such as Politico and social media platforms such as Facebook.

In a phone interview, Joseph Graf, assistant professor of communication at American University, said nontraditional sources exclusively originate online. Traditional sources may have an online component, but a large part of their outreach is through print or television. Networks like ABC or newspapers like The New York Times constitute traditional sources. Nontraditional sources, especially social media sources, have gained popularity recently.

Graf said an issue he believes has come out of the rise of nontraditional sources is a lack of common ground regarding current events among average news consumers. This may be  due to a fractured media and audience feeding off of each other as a result of the sheer amount of sources available.

“A lot of sources we get are filtered by ourselves or for the consumer,” said Graf. “We just go to news we agree with. Algorithms definitely play a role in that. If you Google ‘the West Bank’ and I Google ‘the West Bank’ you’ll get one set of results and I’ll get another.”

Weiss said she can see some issues with getting the majority of her news from theSkimm.

“I have access to news easily, but it could limit what I know,” said Weiss. “It’s a source that’s simplifying terms and making  [news] appealing, kind of not giving the full picture.”

Ericka Menchen-Trevino, assistant professor of communication at American University, said in an email exchange that while BuzzFeed has a news department constructed similarly to the news departments of traditional sources, social media sources prioritize getting news out quickly.

According to Graf, because more people now discuss current events in casual conversation, the need for a constant stream of news has emerged. He believes nontraditional sources have filled that need, an example being the use of hourly mobile news alerts for updates.

The problem is when the news comes out so quickly, it comes out poorly understood,” said Graf. “The journalist sometimes doesn’t know what’s going on, [and] we just know something happened. It takes time for actual understanding. More news does not mean better comprehension or better citizenship.”

Social media is the most popular source for constant news. According to a 2017 Common Sense Media study, 49 percent of teens get everyday news from social media, while a 2017 Pew Research Center study showed that two-thirds of adults sometimes or often get news from social media. 

According to Graf, there are no clear-cut solutions to the issues presented by the rising popularity of nontraditional sources because the effects of these sources likely will not be fully realized in the near future. He believes average news consumers have become more aware of how they consume news by trying to read from a variety of sources or being critical of what they read. However, the fractured nature of the news landscape today does not allow for those actions to solve problems that have appeared as a result of the popularity of nontraditional sources.

A lot of people keep up with the news, or say they do, but [in reality, they] keep up with their own brand of news,” Graf said.