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News platforms trending to short-form media formats

By Barry He | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2022-08-05 03:55

Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Instagram logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

Social media these days is often associated with teenage trends, dances and celebrity culture. However, the likes of Instagram and Snapchat are also increasingly being used to tell stories effectively in a short period of time, lending themselves unexpectedly as a news platform for deep discussion.

Traditional journalism has often struggled to reach Gen Z, reluctant to wade into unfamiliar and somewhat unregulated territory. But the natural evolution of news from traditional platforms to 20-second video formats is fast becoming popular with young people, while newspapers and television remain the domain of those born around or before the 1980s.

News has always reached us by whatever medium of the time, and concerns of social media outmuscling older forms of journalism have never come to fruition. Whether it has been the evolution of newspapers to radio and then eventually television and 24-hour news cycles, each platform still remains with us to this day. Radio and television have not replaced newspapers, and likewise social media, while popular among the young, may still leave room for other demographics to enjoy established platforms.

This is not to deny that a seismic shift is occurring.

By keeping messages and captions in smartphone videos short and snappy, the style of presentation and pace of news stories that spread via the likes of Instagram differ greatly from even older social media platforms with their heyday in the previous decade, such as Facebook, which remains the medium of choice for the boomer generation. Instagram posts that showcase videos of events with captions providing crucial context are immensely popular, especially with grassroots reporting. Events around the world are often captured with smartphone cameras, and can be uploaded directly to journalistic social media accounts without going through a cumbersome editing process. The latter option often leads to slower reporting, alongside the awkward optical clash of broadcasting vertically shot videos on a very much horizontally shot television news show.

Established news outlets that have simply tried to utilize social media by sharing content produced for television online are not utilizing its full power. The fact that large and somewhat inflexible organizations have yet to adopt new styles of editing and storytelling means that a vacuum has been left for amateur and professional reporters alike, who have themselves become wildly popular influencer personalities.

These individuals, when reporting, allow for interactivity with their audience, igniting discussion in comment sections and opening live streams for open discord with their audience. This relatable process also provides outlets with much-needed feedback, with a range of engagement tools available for social media journalists to exploit.

Corporate organizations have been fast to adopt the social media waves of the start of this decade and the last, leading to an online presence being crucial for the survival of global brands. Traditional news outlets have likewise been rapid to recognize the potential benefit of Facebook and YouTube. However, the new wave of social media where short-form horizontal video content is king is still for the most part uncharted territory, save for a few pioneering outlets and millennial journalists frustrated with the ways of old.

With the advent of 5G technology, such formats will become even more instantaneous and adopted by wider audiences. Reporting breaking news may require speed, but adopting a fluency and cadence for new emerging formats may require a different type of agility altogether.

Barry He is a London-based columnist for China Daily.

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