The Empty Echochambers

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By Joanna Blaz

I learned a new word at the Social Good Summit, a word that has defined journalism in 2016. A word that some even say is responsible for this year’s presidential candidates. That word is “echochamber.” This phenomenon seems to occur on social media, where people are most likely to only interact with other people similar to themselves. Facebook users often log in and see opinions and news articles that affirm their own views, creating an echochamber of the same repetitive dialogue.

Laura Walker from New York Public Radio brought up this term during an SGS panel called “Media: What Sells, What Solves.” Journalists from several outlets discussed how the industry was changing to keep up with the audience, or as moderator Aaron Sherinian called it, media going through “puberty.”

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 64% of social media users got their news on just one site. And social media news consumption is only increasing.

For Facebook, 66% of its users use the site for news, up from 47% in 2013. Also leading the pack is Reddit, with 70% of its users visiting the site for news. With subreddits and threads based on a politician or viewpoint, it’s easy to get lost in a favorable sea of comments.

Walker believes that of all the mediums, radio might have the most potential to break through the echochamber.

“It’s a fascinating time for radio,” Walker said. “People are walking around with headphones in their ears.”

With podcasts on the rise and National Public Radio reporting 36.6 million weekly listeners for Spring 2016, Walker may be right. “I think it is also the power and intimacy of the human voice.”

But regardless of the medium, content is still king. How are today’s journalists producing quality work? For Tina Rosenberg, it’s just a matter of looking on the bright side.

Rosenberg co-founded Solutions Journalism, which focuses on reporting how people are responding to problems. The network provides tools and resources to build journalists’ skills. Solutions Journalism has trained 33 newsrooms so far.

Rosenberg agrees with the echo notion that people get their news mainly from their friends, and we tend to choose friends who are similar to us. She said we should push ourselves to show the whole story.

“Engage an audience that’s really tired of just seeing a distorted picture of the world.”

Many speakers throughout SGS agreed that the media has an important role in accurately reporting the issues close to the United Nations and beyond.

“What tends to get the headlines are the governors who say we don’t want refugees in our state, not the decency that still is so fundamental to this country,” said Ambassador Samantha Power.

Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, said the mission is to uncover the world’s under-reported stories, ones that don’t necessarily attract mainstream media. “Journalism can be a force for democracy and for good.”

Sources:

1) http://www.npr.org/about/press/NPR_Fact_Sheet.pdf

2) http://www.journalism.org/2016/05/26/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2016/pj_2016-05-26_social-media-and-news_0-04/

3) http://www.journalism.org/2016/05/26/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2016/pj_2016-05-26_social-media-and-news_0-08/

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