December 28

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Content Creator Journalists Are Becoming More Popular Than Legacy News Outlets

Influencers, Social Media, Writing

Content creator journalists are slowly but surely surpassing traditional "legacy" news outlets as primary sources of information. It's a fascinating trend with significant implications for the media landscape, creators, and social media users.

As with all things related to social media and content creation, there are many layers. Let's look at what this trend actually represents and what it means for creators, journalism, and more. 

Who Exactly Are Content Creator Journalists?

This is a fundamental question, because not all social media or YouTube news sources are created equal. On the one hand, you have genuine journalists who gather firsthand accounts from sources, travel to different locations, and do research to present stories (most often through videos in the case of social media). On the other, you have news aggregators who essentially read about the news from other sources (often those legacy news outlets) and then present it in a condensed form, sometimes with a personal take or slant. 

This is one of the most common forms of news and entertainment, and can be seen in some traditional TV formats on things like talk show monologues and comedy news programs like The Daily Show. When it comes to social media, it's much easier to satisfy the daily demands of an audience by simply curating news from other sources. In that case, it's less about being content creator journalists and more about being media personalities and curators for what news an audience might want to hear. 

There are also mixtures of the two. A good example? Well, this "Learn Stuff" section of our website! On this site we both do our own firsthand research and interviewing and report on important news linked from other sources. (In fact, some of the important examples we'll get to in a second directly come from a Washington Post article where journalist Taylor Lorenz did all the heavy lifting). In this format, we also introduce our own opinions and advice around topics that may matter to content creators — which our audience hopefully trusts because of our expertise and interest in the field of content creation. 

Unfortunately, there are also plenty of creators who present themselves as having journalistic integrity but are actually cherry picking, distorting, and sometimes fabricating news in order to further an agenda. There's a lot of attention to be had by creators who either pick a controversial subject and lean into it heavily, or attempt to generate outrage in order to propel their reach. As social media continues to become more and more of a primary source of news for users, these types of creators will create more challenges for platforms to moderate false and harmful content. 

What The Stats Say About News On Social Media

The number of people using Instagram and TikTok to get news continues to rise, with one in five people under the age of 24 turning to TikTok for news, according to a report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. The report covered 46 different markets and more than 94,000 adults. 

Interestingly, the use of Facebook for news has declined overall from a height of 42 percent in 2016 down to 28 percent in 2023. This is probably due to a variety of factors, including the much-publicized proliferation of intentionally false news on Facebook as well as the app's own focus shift away from being a news distributor. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, Twitter was still one of the most-used apps by mainstream news outlets, as well as journalists and users interested in seeking out news from traditional media. TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram, however, all see higher visibility rates for specific personalities who present the news versus accounts from traditional news outlets. Those include people like Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh, whose account (@Muslim) has more than 7 million followers across Instagram and TikTok. He focuses largely on news that affects the Muslim community, and his audience on TikTok alone is bigger than the 1.1 million people who watch Fox News daily, as The Washington Post points out

The number of people who say they avoid news altogether is at an all-time high of 36 percent. And not surprisingly, many people are skeptical of receiving algorithmically curated news, with only 30 percent saying that receiving news based on stories and subjects they've previously explored is a good way to get news. 

As content creator journalists and news aggregator personalities continue to rise in popularity, it's unlikely their younger audience will shift away any time soon. “There are no reasonable grounds for expecting that those born in the 2000s will suddenly come to prefer old-fashioned websites, let alone broadcast and print, simply because they grow older,” Reuters Institute Director Rasmus Kleis Nielsen says in the report.

Where Do Personalities Get Their News?

Herein lies the rub. Most personalities like Al-Khatahbeh still at least partially rely on traditional investigative news sources to deliver their content. While they do much of the digging to curate stories their audience cares about, it's just not feasible for individuals to become their own news teams. 

But as many traditional outlets struggle to bring in the revenue necessary to keep the lights on, the journalism landscape finds itself at a crossroads. It's important to note that people like Al-Khatahbeh aren't merely good at being online personalities — they're trained journalists with a passion for news who just happened to choose social media over a more traditional outlet. Because of this, many of them understand the ethical responsibilities that come with building a trusting audience.

But that's not the case for plenty of personalities who are more interested in following the trends than the facts, like during one defamation trial between two celebrities. The unfortunate truth is that clickbait is still incredibly popular. But it's not just enough to get people clicking, either. It's about getting them to stick around for longer and engage with the content. Unfortunately that means the more outrageous, unbelievable, or inflammatory, often the more profitable. 

Many personalities find an initial audience in an echo chamber, especially when it comes to far-right personalities on "alternative" social media sites (read: ones that are typically much more lax on content guidelines and may have more instances of hate speech). But at the end of the day, the eyes (and the money that follows) are on the bigger sites, so it behooves most content creators to carefully tread within content guidelines, even if they've since left ethical journalistic ones far in the rearview. 

The Implications Of Content Creator Journalists 

Traditionally, journalists as celebrities are few and far between. For every Walter Cronkite, Anderson Cooper, Bob Woodward, and Christiane Amanpour, there are thousands upon thousands of hardworking journalists whose names stay on the bylines and rarely enter the zeitgeist. But social media has a way of making stars out of passionate people, and the rise of social media as a news outlet likely means we'll see more influencer journalists than ever before. 

It is, in theory, an exciting time. After all, the more diverse ways people engage with the news, the better. Especially considering the number of people who actively try to avoid it, either because they think it's all bad news or it simply isn't tailored to what they're interested in. (It turns out that ignoring the news doesn't make it go away).

But ultimately, journalism is an incredibly time-intensive and often dangerous profession. Creating the kind of operation necessary to truly break global news requires a ton of work. That's why we're starting to see more and more legacy organizations work directly with content creator journalists to try and bridge the gap between existing news media and the evolving ways people prefer to get their news. Even vastly popular YouTube channels that deliver the news rely on a team of people to help sort, curate, and verify news for a specific niche their channel is interested in. 

To the extent this merger continues to happen, it only benefits people who have a passion for journalism but don't see themselves pursuing a traditional route. It also makes established professional news outlets more important than ever — even if their perceived relevance is waning. 

Of course, it also means objective fact checkers and social media hawks are have a lot of work to do, especially considering the sluggish pace some apps move at when addressing false and harmful content. To the degree things spread on social media, false news proliferates just as fast (if not faster) than verified news. And it has real consequences for a lot of people. 


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