Reblogged from GovLoop: Through the Grapevine or Twitter?: The Selection of Pope Francis and the Age of Social Media

(originally posted at GovLoop, knowledge network for government employees)


I bought a newspaper today. I can’t remember the last time I did since I acquire all of my news on the internet. If I had a smartphone, I’m sure I’d be even more up to date, being constantly attached to a plethora of information. But today I picked up a copy of the New York Times because, for the first time ever, there is a Latin American Pope.

Faith aside, millions of people all over the world waited to hear if white smoke was pouring out of the Vatican chimney. But people’s live are busy, so the majority of them didn’t wait by the television. Instead, many simple, a site that cuts straight to the point, stating in big bold letters YES or NO. Once the virtual white smoke puffed out of the online chimney, many were directed to various LiveStreams of the exuberant crowds in Rome who awaited the announcement. 

Despite my eagerness to hear the cardinal’s choice (this year there were some really interesting candidates), I had to pack up my laptop and get on a train and go to class. Frustrated with the lack of my ability to find out who the pope was instantly when he was announced (I don’t have a smartphone), I asked several people, both at work, at home and my current residence, to keep watch for me and text me as soon as the new pope was named.

Not even 10 minutes after I left, Pope Francis (previously Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio) of Argentina, the first Jesuit and the first Latin American pope was announced. But as I sat on the train I realized something; several people were discussing that there was word that they decided on the new pope, but nobody knew who. They checked their smartphones, but none of the major American news networkshad the announcement, meanwhile my friends and family were following the news via the Guardian, a UK news source and were getting live updates which we retweeted and put on Facebook.

It made me wonder how news travels today. Later in the day I asked a few friends how they had found out. Few of them cited me as their source, and one other laughed about how her Latin American grandfather had texted EVERYONE in her family as soon as it had happened. What struck me most, though, was when my classmate and friend told me that she found out through Facebook, “you know, where you find out about any breaking news these days”. 

It cannot be denied that social media is the biggest news source for many people. From natural disasters to celebrity gossip, people spread the word through Twitter, Facebook, and even photo-based sites like Instagram. Social media usually gets the news to individuals first for many reasons; people are constantly checking it, it’s fast, and often it mimics the in-person word of mouth distribution but at lightning speed. In comparison, television is too slow because newscasters and studios have to prepare, while internet news cites can provide quick information once a journalist has taken the time to write an article. Social media takes seconds to update, and often mistakes are forgiven in a misquoted status update or tweet, giving more freedom to news providers to give up to date information without fear of some inaccuracy. 

And then there’s the newspaper. I only bought mine because, as an archiving student, I felt that the cover of the New York Times with Pope Francis’ photo should be kept for posterity. Newspapers these days produce news that is considered old, sometimes news that has already been discussed to death before any coherent article can be written. But they do have their place. 

During Hurricane Sandy, my parents (residents of New York) were without power for over a week, which included election day. the day after the election, my dad woke up and realized something very strange: He didn’t know who was the President of the United States. Because he lacked access to internet and television, he was forced to go out to buy a newspaper to find out that Obama had been re-elected. 


If anything, this papal decision has made me rethink how I acquire information, and how many other people acquire it as well. It has proven how much people rely on the internet for news, but it has also proven that even internet news sources can’t keep up with social media. However, as for Hurricane Sandy, it shows that sometimes an older technology is sometimes the most reliable.

 How do you find out about breaking news?

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