Newspapers need to stop feeding the beast that is devouring them. That's one way to summarize what the Adair County Community Voice in Columbia, Ky., announced last week.
"What you probably won’t be seeing very often at the end of that sentence is the name of a social media platform. Social media can be good but it also appears to offer a whole lot of bad. We use social media to promote our publication and promote links to our website, so it wouldn’t be accurate to say I am banning social media. I am simply saying we only use it when it is necessary."
Alluding to the threat that social media pose to newspapers, Burton continued: "Social media platforms hope to control all content so that everyone starts there. They are being very successful in that, and statistics show that an alarming number of people only read news if they see the news item as part of a social media link. That’s a problem because that social media page is deciding what readers do and do not see. A computer algorithm is feeding readers information with the sole purpose of keeping them entertained, thereby keeping them online."
And she sees a broader threat: "Because those social media companies have been under pressure for promoting false information, they have gotten into the censoring business, so now that algorithm might even be designed to get you to think a certain way, a way in which the people designing those algorithms believes is the right way to think. That’s just downright scary."
But her decision seems driven mainly by self-interest, and she takes the opportunity to remind readers of the difference in social media and news media: "Those sites take the hard work of others and generate money but they don’t share the revenue with the ones creating the content. Reporting the news well takes a qualified journalist, and journalists need to eat and pay the bills just like everyone else."
Burton then urged local organizations to stop relying on social media and "get their own websites," which can be done for "a reasonable monthly fee" to a vendor, and she named several. "After building your own website, you will use social media to promote your page and generate readers, but you will gradually become less reliant on social media and develop your own web presence. That is smart business, because who knows what platform will be popular in the future?"
Burton combined her announcement with one saying that her paper would no longer publish press releases about events that "take money out of Columbia at no benefit to local businesses," and concluded, "We treasure our role in this community, and we constantly review how we do what we do to try to be fair and balanced. While we may be the watchdog of local government, we are also your source for reliable news and information on local events, and we are a conduit between consumers and local businesses. We take all those roles seriously, and we thank you for allowing us the privilege of being your newspaper!"