Jeff Bezos and Social Justice: A Winning Strategy (Full Report)

By Jack Myers Jack Myers TomorrowToday Economics Archives

"Media exposure is an essential constituent of all successful social movements."
Sue Curry Jansen
Co-editor of "Media and Social Justice"

Jeffrey Bezos' acquisition of The Washington Post did not include the Graham families' digital holdings such as Slate and Social Code, reinforcing the belief that Bezos purchased the paper and its siblings because he recognizes that newspapers have been a powerful weapon for both achieving and repressing social justice throughout modern history, and that he can access that weapon for achieving both profitability and social influence.

Wealthy media owners have long influenced the public's perceptions of and responses to social issues. Would workplace safety regulations exist without the media? Laws against monopolies? Food safety inspections? Social welfare programs? Sue Curry Jansen, a Muhlenberg (Pa.) College Media and Communication professor, writes that they would not in the introduction of her book Media and Social Justice, co-edited with Jefferson Pooley and Lora Taub-Pervizpour. Historically, though, "The unequal distribution of media resources generates profound injustices," writes Nick Couldry, a University of London professor who is the director of the Goldsmiths Centre for the study of Global Media and Democracy.

The day when everyone has equal access to traditional media will never arrive. But more and more traditional media outlets are disappearing, especially print media. Until Fox News and MSNBC, the news media's editorial evangelizing was limited almost exclusively to print media. The spread of most 20 th century social movements can be attributed to newspapers. But the days when social justice movements, whether they're progressive or conservative, need newspapers to publicize their causes are over thanks to social media. Mailing 500-word press releases to strangers at newspapers is out. Sending a series of one-sentence tweets to people who have expressed interest in your cause is in. Requiring local television news to cover your demonstration is out. Uploading a video to You Tube or Instagram is in.

That's why I believe Bezos will quickly move to integrate more proactive social media communications into his newspapers' editorial rooms, and will place the media he controls at the digital cutting edge of social justice campaigns. It's not only newspaper publishers that need to watch Bezos, but the managers and editors at Tumblr, Reddit and other socially responsive websites.

The future of newspapers depends on their ability to regain their leadership as a powerful voice for social causes and social justice. No bully pulpit has greater potential to impact social issue politics than The Washington Post, giving Bezos not only power but a heavy weight of social responsibility. Ultimately, his personal legacy may be defined more by his leadership of the Post than by his creation of Amazon.

As Bezos redefines The Washington Post (expect the repositioning to occur first at Fairfax County and other Post-Newsweek newspapers), expect his newsrooms to proactively integrate social media and to be front and center in leading social justice campaigns that engage and influence millions of people daily. We have experienced the first stages of this transition as more journalists cover social justice movements by posting tweets during the event, updating with videos at the websites and providing only limited coverage in print.

"Traditional journalism has adopted social media so completely and uses it to publicize traditional journalistic outlets," wrote Thomas Norman DeWolf a blogger on social justice issues who is also the community coordinator for Coming To The Table, an organization that seeks to heal the wounds of racism. "In other words, savvy traditional journalistic outlets know where things are headed and are doing their best to adapt to the inevitable."

Professor Nkosana Dube, a Journalism and Media Studies professor at Zimbabwe's National University of Science & Technology wrote that traditional news reporters are also using the social media to interact with their readers and sources. This interaction enables reporters to write better stories, build relationships with young audiences, and improve the "potential of the media to attract a younger audience."

Several Salisbury (Md.) University students discussed the role of the social media in a discussion that was so optimistic that the student who wrote the report titled it "Social Media Changing Journalism for the Best."  Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Vine and Pinterest are so popular that more Americans could soon get their news from social media than newspapers, according to the Mediabistro article "How Social Media Is Replacing Traditional Journalism As A News Source." In 2012, television was the No. 1 source at 59.5 percent, while newspapers and social media were at 28.8 and 27.8 percent. Of those who got their news from social media, 59.5 percent got their news from Facebook, 19.9 percent from Twitter, and 12.7 percent from YouTube. The Mediabistro article reports that Twitter broke many news stories, including the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Whitney Houston and news about the futures of Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich, while Facebook and YouTube have broken international news stories.

In addition, an academic paper called "The Future of Traditional Journalists Social Media era: Towards changing roles and understandings" credited social media with breaking news stories about the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, a devastating earthquake in Haiti, and the death of Muammar Gaddafi. "Social networks are increasingly where news is broken and sometimes runs hours ahead of traditional news organizations," wrote Nkosana Dube.

At the core of Bezos' strategy, I expect, will be an aggressive strategy of placing The Washington Post front and center in social movements, identifying them, advocating for them, rallying against them, and building social connectivity through them. While advertisers typically shy away from associating their messages with social and political causes, they've demonstrated little reluctance to support either MSNBC or Fox News. And with programmatic buying advancing the value of extensive reach and engagement scores, Bezos may have identified a winning strategy.


THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL MEDIA JOURNALISM


Social Media Campaigns are Inexpensive

Social justice campaigns conducted through the social media rather than the traditional media have several advantages. They include:

* A More Receptive Audience: The audience that social justice campaigns reach through newspaper articles and television reports includes people who are primarily interested in the day's sports news, weather, gossip and many other topics. These people are far less likely to participate in a social justice campaign than people who have previously expressed interest in the organization by signing up to receive its Facebook posts and Twitter tweets.

* Better And Faster Feedback: Organizations that rely on social media are more likely to hear from people who are interested in their social justice campaigns than organizations that rely on traditional media. Consequently, social media campaigns can measure whether they're successful more expeditiously than traditional media campaigns and they can be changed based on the ideas of Facebook posts and Twitter tweets so they're more successful.

* Stronger Alliances: Supporters of a social media campaign can communicate with each other via social media platforms. Consequently, they can work more effectively together on organizing rallies, lobbying lawmakers, community outreach, and whatever else is required.

* More Efficient Spending: Reaching people via a social media campaign is extremely efficient, according to a Mediabistro article that compares the social media and the traditional media. Although the article focuses on business, the principle applies to non-business campaigns. It costs about $1 to reach 1,000 people via a social media campaign for consumer products vs. about $3 for a billboard campaign, about $5 for a radio campaign, about $9 for a television campaign, about $29 for a newspaper campaign, and about $50 for a direct mail campaign.

The cost advantages of a social media campaign help social justice activists undertake campaigns on issues that the traditional media typically ignore. Billy Shore, the executive director of Share Our Strength, which fights childhood hunger in the U.S., wrote in "When Social Media and Social Justice Intersect," a column for The Huffington Post , that homelessness, hunger and poverty are more visible because of the social media.

Jansen noted that the traditional media ignored the issue of large media companies having too much influence in local markets, but a social media campaign mobilized millions of people to oppose a plan that would permit more mergers in the media industry.

"The use of the Internet as an organizing and mobilizing tool is transforming how social movements are constituted and defined," she wrote.

Successful Social Justice Campaigns

Most of the campaigns on Say Daily's list of "10 Interesting Social Media Marketing Campaigns That Worked" are campaigns for consumer products like Wheat Thins and Old Spice, but two were social justice campaigns.

The "Million Hoodies campaign for Trayvon Martin" was ranked fifth. The hoodie that Martin was wearing became an issue after television commentator Geraldo Rivera suggested that people wearing hoodies look like gangsters. "A grass-roots campaign practically launched itself on YouTube and on Twitter with the hashtag #MillionHoodies to express its outrage that the shooter in the case hadn't even been arrested," noted the article. The campaign led to nationwide protests against the decision to not arrest Zimmerman, who was arrested after a second investigation.

The campaign to publicize the actions of alleged war criminal and indicted fugitive Joseph Kony, a former leader of a guerrilla group in Uganda who was accused of forcing children to become sex slaves and soldiers, via the documentary KONY 2012 ranked 10th.

Invisible Children, Inc., a social justice organization dedicated to fighting the abuse of children in Uganda, wanted Kony's profile raised to enhance the chances that he would be arrested. He hasn't been, but the film had 98 million views on YouTube as of August, 2013, and more than 104 million views in 204 nations altogether. The publicity also spurred the U.S. and international organizations to increase their efforts to capture Kony.

"It wasn't traditional media that made Joseph Kony notoriously famous," DeWolf told Jack Myers Media Business Report in an online interview. "It was the video Kony 2012 created by the group Invisible Children going viral that did that."

Social media was also crucial in the 2011 Occupy Wall Street campaign, which basically consisted of protests throughout the U.S. against economic inequality and the power of the wealthiest "one percent" to influence economic policy. Facebook and Twitter were the "central organizing locations" for informing people about the Occupy Wall Street campaign, according to Neal Caren, a University of North Carolina professor who tracked the role of social media in the campaign with doctoral student Sarah Gaby .

From Aug., 2011 through Jan. 31, 2012, there were more than 1,400 Facebook groups dedicated to the Occupy Wall Street movement, according to Caren and Gaby. The groups had more than 340,000 users who commented on the movement more than 3 million times.

Conservatives, particularly those who lack money and power, use the term "grassroots" rather than "social justice," but they have also successfully used the social media in their campaigns. On their website, the Tea Party Patriots have an article titled "The Importance of Social Media for Grassroots Conservatives" that details how they have helped shape the Republican Party's priorities by mobilizing supporters via Facebook and Twitter.

"In the age of Twitter, the grass roots is much more informed and engaged," according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis of the Republican Party . "And social media has made it more difficult for party leaders to get members to fall in line."

Social Media Affects The World

Social media campaigns were also crucial in the Arab Spring -- a series of demonstrations in about 15 Arab nations that resulted in the leaders of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen being overthrown. Fast Company magazine analyzed the effect of social media on the successful effort of Egypt's citizens to overthrow Hosni Mubarak after 31 years in power. Its article was entitled "How Social Media Accelerated the Uprising in Egypt."

E.B. Boyd wrote that the anti-Mubarak campaign on Facebook and Twitter caused Egyptians to become more aware about the protests and how many people supported Mubarak's ouster. Thus, the campaign "summoned the kind of courage that's made possible by knowing you're not the only one sticking your neck out." "Did Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube send people out into the streets?" asked Boyd. "Of course not. Did they speed up the process of protest? Absolutely."

Egypt's government was so aware of Twitter and Facebook's power that it shut them down. Its action, however, demonstrated how social media can be a more effective tool for social justice than the traditional media because citizen journalists are more likely to be able to afford launching a social media network than a newspaper. Consequently, social media networks can be more plentiful and flexible. They also can be created anywhere in the world rather in the locale of the social justice campaign.

HootSuite, which was launched in 2008 and is based in Vancouver, became the preferred social media network for Egyptians after Facebook and Twitter were shut down, according to Social Media Promotions. Two years after Mubarak was ousted, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the nation's military. Mashable details how Morsi and the military communicated via the social media and ignored the traditional media.

Young People Crucial To Journalism's Future

Innumerable analyses of the audiences of social media networks and traditional media have reported that young people are gravitating toward the former and away from the latter.

Dube wrote in "The Future of Traditional Journalists Social Media era: Towards changing roles and understandings" that young people prefer the interactivity of social media.

"Social networks score well with young people, the demographic group which newspapers fear will never buy their products and which is beginning to desert traditional broadcast news and current affairs programmes," he wrote.

Young people's interest in social media often spurs social justice movements because they interact with each other and often persuade their parents to join them. In an online interview with Jack Myers Media Business Report, David Hill, a labor union organizer, reports that young people were responsible for the largest public demonstration in Colorado's history in 2006 when he was an organizer for UNITE HERE, a union for workers in the casino gaming, food service, hotel, laundry and warehouse industries.

The demonstration in Denver was about immigration rights because most of UNITE HERE's Colorado workers were Spanish-speaking undocumented immigrants. Hill said the union was worried about turnout, but teenagers disseminated news about the rally with each other, who then persuaded their parents and grandparents to rally. "Similar things happened in Dallas, El Paso, Phoenix, Salt Lake City even," Hill told Media Business Report. "Soon after this historic march, many of those same cities saw large-scale high school walkouts in opposition to HR 4437 (a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that restricted immigrant rights) using similar methods to get the word out."

The National Council of La Raza, a group that lobbies for Latinos, is training teenagers in using the social media to promote social justice, according to the Chicago Tribune . "Facebook and Twitter will never replace voting or marching, but it's a tool to organize; a way to convince your friends to register to vote or be aware of a cause," La Raza's Celina Villanueva told about 150 high school students at a workshop.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that the social media and the traditional media are both tools in the social justice movement, Malkia Cyril, The Center for Media Justice's executive director, told Forbes magazine in an interview for an article titled "The Social Media Secrets of Top Movement Leaders." "The fundamentals of organizing and movement-building remain the same," said Cyril. "Building relationships remains the underlying motivation for political action."

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