How to Report on Internet Culture

From viral videos to all sorts of fandom communities, internet culture is a major source for breaking news. NBC News’ Digital Culture & Trends team focuses entirely on social media trends and online conversations and explains why they matter to online audiences of millions, as well as the world at large. 

“We live and breathe the internet,” said Saba Hamedy, NBC News digital trending editor, who launched and leads the team. 

“It’s kind of a dream role,” said Daysia Tolentino, NBC News culture & trends reporter. “I get to scroll through social media all day, looking for what people are talking about and what people are interested in.” 

The internet culture beat is fairly new. Reporters mostly come from the millennial and Gen Z generation that grew up during the rise of social media and the influencer economy and uses the internet as a main form of entertainment. 
“I bring that expertise that I’ve organically and naturally gained throughout my lifetime,” Tolentino said. 
While some people dismiss internet culture stories as not being “serious,” the Digital Culture & Trends team regularly tackles online disinformation and other issues that can sway greater public opinion. 
“We do a lot of online debunking, including things that media itself perpetuate as a trend that aren’t trending,” Samedy said.  

Fandoms react to breaking news

Hamedy: The Ticketmaster debacle with Taylor Swift was a perfect example of how our team helps the Business and Breaking News teams. Our team looked at the online reaction of Swifties [Taylor Swift fans] really mad at Ticketmaster. 

Similarly, NBC News broke the lawsuit against Lizzo. During the fallout, our team then talked to fans, specifically Black fans, about their disappointment in the allegations made by three of her former dancers, which appear to defy everything Lizzo has stood for. That’s more of an entertainment story, but it’s told through the internet culture lens. 

Finding alternate narratives online

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Hamedy: When Congress brought in the TikTok CEO for a hearing, because they’re considering the ban, we didn’t cover the Hill, because we have a lot of great reporters down there already. We covered the TikTok community rallying outside, saying “Please don’t ban TikTok.”  

The day after the hearing, Daysia noticed online that a lot of Gen Zers were posting thirst traps about the TikTok CEO. So we did a funny story about that, because the sentiment online was a completely different narrative than that of the politicians who were grilling him. The internet felt like he did a great job. 

Exploring larger issues through niche internet culture

Tolentino: A few weeks ago, I covered a hockey romance BookTok drama. Most people wouldn’t know what that means, but breaking it down, there’s a large creator with a million followers who creates book content on TikTok. She got invested in hockey romance books and translated that love to real life and was flown out to a hockey game by a team.  

[BookTok fans were] being inappropriate toward real-life [hockey players] based on the fantasies that they had in the books. That created a conversation about how we treat public figures and how we sexually objectify or harass athletes. That’s more understandable for a general audience than the intricacies of this niche internet community.  

This niche sports community created this massively viral drama, but all that aside, it boils down to those core things that are easy to understand from an older perspective or a more offline perspective.

Figuring out the ‘why’ behind internet culture

Hamedy: People can shrug it off and say, “Well, it’s just a thing that happened on the internet.” But the reality is, the internet is everywhere. If people are talking about it, we want to try and decipher why. 

Tolentino: Just break down who the major players are, and why people are talking about it. Break that down in very digestible elements and explain why it relates to a broader concept. Generally that’s how a lot of our stories go.

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