The way people consume news is changing, and social media is driving that change, Steven Korn observes. Korn, former COO of CNN who has served at the helm of several newspapers, has been observing changes in news consumption for years.

The days of reading the morning paper over breakfast are long gone, he says. Now people turn on their computers or peruse their smart phones for their news, using services like Facebook and Twitter to tell them what happened around the world while they were sleeping.

“My kids, who are in their 20s, never read the newspaper,” affirms Korn. “They’ve never had newspaper ink on their hands in their whole life. They get all their information off the web.”

Traditional outlets like newspapers and weekly magazines are simply too slow. Today’s news consumers expect to be able to access news as it happens. This shift began with 24-hour TV news stations, increased as they began publishing content online, and is now shifting to social media.

When breaking news happens, social media sites increasingly have the information before TV news crews can report to the scene. During the recent fire in Boston’s Back Bay that claimed the life of two firefighters, Steve Korn watched with interest as Twitter users upload pictures of the blaze before official news outlets had the information on the event.

To modern media consumers, source is less important than content. What matters most is who has the story right now. “Whether it’s a legitimate news source like CNN or from less legitimate sources like social media,” Korn observes, young adults are looking for immediate information.

The recent earthquakes in Southern California illustrate this trend. Facebook and Twitter users reported feeling tremors before local news could confirm the events. They look to sites like for reports on the seismic activity, and post the links for their friends, bypassing online news outfits all together.

Even when the news is not breaking, it is increasingly being accessed through social media first. While people still go directly to online news outlets to check out the latest headlines, top news sites report that traffic funneled to them through Twitter and Facebook increases annually.

Much of the content being shared is emotional in nature. Human interest stories, celebrity news, and odd news is more likely to be shared than what is considered “hard news.” People are more likely to share stories that are not controversial and that are fun to talk about, because they enhance the social experience.

This does not mean that online consumption is watering down news. As The Atlantic points out, People Magazine has always outsold Time, so what people like to consume is not changing as much as how they consume it. It also affects what kind of news more established media outlets are compiling.

In order to drive more web traffic, hard news outlets are attempting to keep up with the trends. While the broadcast wing of these outlets air a much smaller percentage of “fluff pieces,” their online wings contain plenty of information about the latest celebrity breakups, cute videos going viral on YouTube, and Top Ten lists.

Much of this content is being posted in order to drive traffic to the site, hoping to then hold readers’ attention with more serious news articles. A cute puppy video will get someone on Facebook to click over, and then headlines on across the top and sides of the page keep people clicking. The amount of hard news stays steady, but “clickbait” is increasing.

The inverse is true as well. The popular site BuzzFeed is known for its silly quizzes, “you won’t believe this” stories, and articles like the incredibly popular “The 13 Creepiest Things A Child Has Ever Said To A Parent.” But they publish deeper content as well, notes Korn.

Under the heading “Longform,” BuzzFeed posts in-depth, well-researched content. Many of these original stories take a closer look at a story already in the news, such as their extensive interviews with residents of Steubenville (recently in the news over a controversial high school rape case). Others look at original subjects, like a recent piece on Space Tourism in New Mexico. It seems as though the revenue from the traffic fluff pieces bring in funds the site’s serious journalism.

While longform journalism takes the stage at Buzzfeed, shortened versions of longer news stories send traffic to sites as well. Twitter and Facebook’s most shared articles tend to come from news aggregation websites such as The Huffington Post. Web users want to know the basics of a story before potentially clicking through for more details.

Some people fear that social media is a threat to traditional news outlets, but social sharing can be seen as enhancing older forms of newsgathering. Social media shares bring more traffic to sites, and news outlets should take advantage of that.

The ways people obtain and share news have evolved throughout history. Social media is just the newest approach to an age-old practice. As Steven Korn observes, traditional news sources such as newspapers and TV news outlets that stay abreast of the newest trends in newsgathering will be best able to withstand the changing times.

This post is sponsored by NHQ.  All opinions are 100% my own.