Last week, when #effyourbeautystandards creator Tess Holliday signed to a major modeling agency, people around the world expressed their support. Holliday’s social media campaign celebrates all body types and denounces common beauty standards of the Western world. A plus-sized model herself, Holliday’s campaign has been appropriately labeled as revolutionary. She is giving a voice to those who feel voiceless because of their bodies.
Upon reading the myriad of articles announcing Holliday’s new modeling contract, I realized that, despite her global efforts to inspire body confidence, I had never heard a major news site mention her name until now. Within the next few weeks, news sources will likely cease talking about her and the digital buzz surrounding her contract will subside as she creates a physical space for herself on the glossy pages of magazines.
It is good that Holliday is gaining recognition for her talent, overthrowing beauty standards, and continuing to act as role model for young girls. What concerns me is how this particular situation reflects news coverage as it relates to social media.
Social media is increasingly universal. Upon logging onto Twitter, I can find information about the Boko Haram killings in Nigeria, a link to a fad diet, and a quickly snapped photo of a revolution occurring halfway around the world. With this much informal coverage, is the six o’clock news still relevant? No longer is Brian Wolfe the only person who can break a story. Now it is possible – even probable – that dozens of people will do so before Brian has put his mic on.
As a result of this shift, many news outlets no longer give viewers basic news or breaking news. Instead, they track and catalog the biorhythms of social media – what is trending, what is popular, what people think is important. They share the sentiment and knowledge gained from the general populace in such a way that it becomes “official” news, which is still a badge of honor in today’s social media driven world.
Incidentally, this is similar to what corporations (such as modeling agencies) have been doing. In Holliday’s case, she became so popular on social media that someone took notice. Social media took further notice when she was signed to an agency, and only then did traditional news outlets pick up on her. She is the new golden child for traditional media – for now.
But is that what we want journalism to be? Simply a reflection of the ups and downs of social media, of what other people think and believe? A major story while the Twitterverse is focused on it?
I’m concerned that journalism has become mired in the intricacies of the Internet, with all of its information derived from the safety of a Manhattan cubicle. It frustrates me that the very issues that the news picked up yesterday, heralding as the “most important problems of our time,” are forsaken today for a more recent scoop. I want to see news unfold long-term. I want objective journalism that strives for accuracy and follows a moral code, not a journalism that throws away people and events that are somehow “boring” after a few days. What happened to the conversation about race relations following the death of Michael Brown? To our nation’s debates about gun rights in the wake of Sandy Hook?
Maybe we should take a page from Tess Holliday’s book and make a hashtag: #effyourflightyjournalism. We could start a movement. I’d wager that traditional news media would pay attention to that. For a little while, that is.