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The new non-fake news & Snapchat

Last week I wrote about fake news, this week about its opposite. This is very real news, as captured by bystanders on the spot – curated and given app-wide exposure by an app. This is quite likely to be how our children will get a lot of their news going forward, so I want to be sure you don’t miss what was at the bottom of New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo’s important article about Snapchat.

Snapchat screenshotThis isn’t people making stuff up to make money by gaming the system (search and social media’s algorithms), like what bowled us over this election season. This is reporters hired by Snapchat to assemble into “in-depth pieces” bits of video shot by users who are in the middle of unfolding news, Manjoo reports. This is worth your attention, media literacy teachers.

“The company calls these Live Stories, and they have been transformative, unlike any other news presentation you can find online. Every day, Snapchat offers one or several stories about big and small events happening in the world, including football games, awards shows and serious news,” he writes.

“For instance, this summer, while the rest of the media were engulfed by Hurricane Trump, Snapchat’s news team spent days following the devastating floods in Louisiana. That in itself was unusual, but Snap’s presentation was also groundbreaking: Rather than showing the overhead shots or anchor stand-ups that are conventional on TV news, Snapchat offered video from inside people’s houses, from shelters, from schools. It mixed the macrostory of an impending natural disaster and the government’s response to it with the microtragedies of personal loss, and even the lighter moments of humor and boredom in between.”

Manjoo gives the example of a Live Story about the “knife-wielding attacker [who] went on a rampage at Ohio State University [last] week…. Between scenes of government officials and students describing the attack, there were clips captured by students holed up in classrooms, expressing their fear and sense of bewilderment over what was going on. It wasn’t just an informative story, but it engendered a sense of empathy for its subjects that is rare in the news.” And it’s the way news is going.

It’s personal

News is changing fast, and not only in a negative direction. It’s just changing, people. Legitimate news – by which I mean news production with the motive to inform not manipulate or enrich (monetarily) – is changing because media is changing. Not only is news produced and distributed in real time, more and more (making fact-checking extremely difficult and putting ever more onus on the user’s media literacy), it’s more and more personal. It’s personal in the way that a Live Story pulls together the personal perspectives of a number of witnesses and participants in the story, and it’s personal in that it can also reflect the producer’s or curator’s view. Not always, but it can.

Snap Inc logoIt’s personal in another way too: in the way it’s received and shared by the viewer/user/consumer, who is also a participant. The user is part of its distribution. It can become a “big story” not just because the producer says it is, as in the days of mass media. It can also be a big story because its users, or sharers, make it so.

The truth => our truth

In fact, they’re the “fact-checkers” in some ways now. I had an unforgettable conversation a few years ago with Brian Pinero, who at the time worked with a lot of young people as director of the dating abuse hotline. He said he noticed young people don’t just absorb information, such as the advice his hotline provided. When they receive it, they check it out with friends and others in their social circles (both personally known and not), listen to their connections’ takes on it, and then make a decision about that information based on those perspectives plus their own.  They don’t just accept truth delivered as such, Pinero said; they see how it fits with the views of people who matter to them – how it works for us. [But wait. This is not just about news in our social “filter bubbles.” Stay with me for a moment, please….]

The result becomes our truth. It’s not just that truth has become social, like media. It’s more than that. This is hard to articulate, but if you’ll let me try: It’s that the people who are important to us bring context, meaning and perspective to a news story or event. That doesn’t mean that echo chambers and filter bubbles don’t happen or that news users (participants, consumers, distributors) don’t need perspective outside their social circles. It does mean that the needle is moving a little – a little closer to relative and a little further from absolute. News is getting both more personal and more social now, creating something other than merely more subjectivity. Its value is a blend of fact and social context.

Which means good media literacy educators will increasingly be learning right along with their students – learning about their students’ social context and helping them see and articulate its role in “consuming” news. It also means that, less and less, can media literacy be separated from social literacy, right?

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