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What Is News In Social Media Age: Ashley Madison Reacts

by John on 09/05/2015

I recently posted about the Ashley Madison cyber ransom scandal.

My friend Lorence Irvine, from Hong Kong, wrote on Facebook:

Regarding Ashley Madison, I’ve been watching this kind of news break for years, and it’s stopped shocking me. It still offends me, but not shocking.

None of this stuff surprises me anymore. You know what does?

The person who does the right thing.

The husband and wife who are faithful to one another; who celebrate their 25th, 35th, 50th, 75th wedding anniversaries. I am shocked!

Why can’t this be reported. This is interesting news, as I think the world is getting sick of hearing the other stuff, because it has no shock value any more.

What are your thoughts John Daly? Since you are a journalist love to hear your comments.


Lorence, thanks for asking. Here goes.

First, I understand what Lorence is saying. We should celebrate the good and the great like someone being married for decades. And that’s where social media comes in. And we should be shocked at the Ashley Madison story; and our shock should be shouted on social media. This is also where we turn to our pundits and commentators who can put this story into perspective. I also think we need to be kind and forgiving to the people whose lives are being ruined due to this story.

But celebrating an anniversary or a happy marriage is not news in the sense of what a news organization should cover. Although some newspapers will post stories on extraordinarily long marriages.

So, I think we need to be careful to not confuse social media news or personal news with what we in the biz would call real news.

In simple terms: News is unbiased information that is new, that has changed, that offers a warning to someone’s physical, mental, and wealth well-being or what is considered a change to the common belief system. (That’s my definition. Anyone got a better one, let me know.)

Here’s a simple example.

Imagine a small town intersection that suddenly has a lot of accidents. That is news. Something changed. People are getting hurt.

The town installs a traffic light. That is news. Something has changed.

A month later, there are no accidents at that intersection. That could still be considered news since what the town did actually worked.

Six months later, there are still no accidents. That, you could argue, is not news. The traffic light did what it was supposed to do. It is expected when you come to a traffic light you won’t get into an accident.

Now, take the story of the couple that has been married for 40 years. That is not really news because we expect people to be married – just like we expect traffic lights to work and prevent accidents.

Now let’s take the Ashley Madison story.

It’s news: to find out that someone really joins a website to cheat on their spouse.

It’s news: that Ashley Madison got hacked. And there are two big aspects to this as a news story. First, this company is being held for ransom. Second, Ashley Madison members got screwed (bad analogy?) because they were told all their information would be protected or destroyed — and it wasn’t.

It’s news: that sadly some people have committed suicide over the revelation that they were members.

Being shocked at this story is really what social media is for. It’s for all of us to share in a conversation. Sometimes we share news in that social media conversation, but that doesn’t make it news.

For years, many of us have distorted what news should be.

First and foremost, news is all about warning us and making us safer. I criticize TV news for failing to explain intricate, nuanced stories that effect our livelihoods and our health. But TV news does a great job warning us. It’s especially important when it comes to dangerous weather or dangerous circumstances, such as a killer on the loose. Does television news get it right all the time? No. But I am OK with that since they’re warning me. I would rather get a heads-up that’s wrong rather than no heads up at all.

Second, if you are looking for “feel good” from the news then you are distorting what news is for. It is not supposed to be entertainment or a medium to verify your personal beliefs. And too often so-called news media outlets have placed entertainment and advertising dollars first with news and information second. I don’t think the brand of news you see on FOX News or MSNBC is real news.

Real news will challenge the status quo of the viewers’ points of view. Neither of these cable outlets do that. In fact, they make their audiences feel good by regurgitating their slant on the news. However, I am actually fine with both organizations doing that. That is how they make money. They’re free to make money as they wish. Just don’t call it news. That will all change if the public demands real news.

Third, I try to post based on my news background. I look for stories that are game-changers for all of us. I also try to find many sources to back up a story or to bring other perspectives.

The Ashley Madison story is fascinating in many ways – and not because of the sex and titillation.

Cyber ransom is a new and big trend to watch. We were in Atlanta shooting with a videographer who had just finished some work for IBM. He said all IBMers were discussing was the bulked up efforts on their geniuses to prevent or detect cyber ransom from terror groups and state-run efforts from China or Russia.

If you want to get a little bit more insight into this, start watching the new TV show Mr. Robot. It is a fabulous, dark view of the new digital cyber world.

So there is my take on Ashley Madison and the difference between news and social media.

Lorence?

Anyone, comments?

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