It wasn’t so long ago that sitting down to watch the six o’clock news was a nightly ritual many families observed as religiously as prayer. Dan Rathers, Barbara Walters, Connie Chung – they were invited into homes every evening like neighbors coming over for a chat, except they were liked better than neighbors because they never expected coffee or dinner and were always willing to share the latest gossip (both local and national).
Times have changed. The advent of new technology, in terms of software and hardware, the dispersal of the nuclear family unit, and competition from TV shows other than news programs has made the daily watching of TV news an exception, not the norm, especially for younger generations of viewers like those who belong to the “millennial” one. I mean, after a long day at the office dealing with God-knows-how-many problems, the last thing I want to do when I get home and bust out a bottle of Pinot is turn on FOX News. Not when there are shows like True Detective, Game of Thrones, and Hannibal circulating the airwaves. Heck, I’d watch a marathon of The George Lopez Show before I’d watch FOX News.
Which isn’t to say that I, or people belonging to the millennial generation, don’t care about the political and social happenings going on around me and in other parts of the world. A joint study by the Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism and The Economist Group, released in late 2012, indicates that people belonging to “Generation Y” (that’s roughly between ages 14-35) still desire to stay informed and gain access to news – they just don’t choose to do so through a television, necessarily. According to the report, 37 percent of 18-29-year-olds gain access to news through apps on their smartphones.
Perhaps one of the reasons for a growing lack of interest in TV news programs has to do with an increasing awareness in recent years that TV news stories are heavily edited and manipulated, as evidence by exposés like Outfoxed. When it’s revealed that news corporation execs are sending daily memos instructing editors to use specific and coded language designed to shape viewer opinions on a national scale, it becomes difficult to trust the veracity and reliability of stories that are presented on primetime news programs (I’m looking at you, Rupert Murdoch and 21st Century Fox). It’s been said a million times before, so it won’t hurt to say it again: What ever happened to journalistic integrity?
Still, even if millennials are moving away from TV news programs towards news outlets on their tablets and smartphones, the reality is that corporations with personal agendas still control a vast amount of the stories being disseminated, on the web and the airwaves. And sometimes, the stories that end up mattering to audiences don’t get any attention or dissemination at all. That’s when turning to Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms can come in handy as a means to gain exposure to news content that doesn’t make it to onto the corporations’ rosters. A YPulse study conducted in May of 2013 polled millennials between the ages of 14-30 and revealed that a whopping 68 percent consistently receive news from social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. While social media still ranks behind news websites as a primary source of information overall, the study suggests that traditional outlets of news have stiff completion when it comes to what reaches the ears (or eyes) of audiences first.
Case in point: the #SaveKessab movement that gained so much momentum on Twitter in the past weeks that celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Travis Barker got in on it. The hashtag refers to a coastal town in Syria populated dominantly by Christian Armenians, which became a literal zone of contention last week when the rebel Free Syrian Army captured the city in an attempt to turn the tides of the civil war they’ve been fighting against the incumbent regime’s loyalist forces. Rumors that the town’s Armenian citizens were being systematically massacred in a manner reminiscent of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, backed by contested pictures and videos used as evidence, led members of the global Armenian diaspora, especially in the US, to lend their online voices to the movement in hopes of directing international attention to Kessab’s plight. While it has been revealed that none of the town’s citizens have been killed (just evacuated), what’s interesting is that this story doesn’t seem to have been covered by any of the news giants like ABC, CNN, or even FOX. Now, if this is because the actual details of the events occurring in Kessab are still murky or because they don’t think the story merits enough importance to be included in the broader coverage of the Syrian civil war – well, that’s a daily memo we probably won’t be privy to anytime soon. It does go to show, however, that social media platforms are more than an outlet for selfies and funny videos: they can be a powerful tool for the dissemination of potentially-important information that appeals to different demographics. Though information doesn’t always lead to action (anyone remember #KONY2012?).
What’s perhaps just as interesting, however, is the fact that, were it not for my coming across #SaveKessab on Twitter and Facebook through my friends’ posts, I probably never would have known that there was a town in Syria named Kessab, nor would I have been inclined to research it. I would have never come to better understand the complicated relationships and histories that exist between Turkey, NATO, Islam and the Armenian community, both in the Middle East and abroad. Sure, I was aware of the Syrian civil war in a general sense — but my initial curiously sparked by the hashtag turned into an awareness of how this event unfolding thousands of miles away personally touches the lives and informs the experiences of a large community of people I come into contact with myself. And isn’t that the goal of true journalism? To make us more aware?