“In the most developed countries in the world journalists are most expected to be multi-skilled and be able to blog, podcast and work on the websites… if you want to keep your job as a journalist you will have to be much more tech- savvy and willing to work in a multi-skilled way,” argues Prof Harry Dugmore, the MTN Chair of Media and Mobile Communication at the Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies.
It will be survival for the smartest and the most compliant with technology. With the emerging technologies in spreading information, journalists’ key position in the news supply chain has drastically changed. According to experts they may be ebbed into obscurity altogether unless they quickly conform.
Experts across the world agree with Dugmore that the death of traditional media is imminent unless there is drastic change in their modus operandi.
According to Prof Harry Dugmore, upcoming journalists must embrace new media technology (online and mobile reporting) to survive because newspapers are increasingly becoming redundant.
“…We have seen throughout the world, including in Africa, newspapers for example rapidly becoming redundant and circulations falling very very fast… you are seeing more people accessing newspapers via laptops and cell phone because it is much more instant, much more rich (in a sense that you have many different perspectives) and it is much much cheaper than buying a newspaper,” says Dugmore.
According to a study by Internews Europe, titled The Promise of Ubiquity-Mobile as a Media Platform in the Global South, growth of mobile phone reach is a threat to traditional media, just as the Internet has been—and on a larger scale in developing countries.
The study predicts mobile telephony to be the world’s first universal communications platform— one that is getting there faster than anyone expected. Its major path of growth, reveals the study, is now in the global South, where the mobile is not just a phone but a global address, a transaction device, and an identity marker for hundreds of millions of poor people.
“This holds unprecedented opportunity formed in developing countries to engage their core audiences more deeply, reach new audiences on the edge of their current footprint, and provide interactive and customised information services that are both profitable and life-improving,” reads the study in part.
If media doesn’t address the mobile as a viable information platform, the study warns, others will, and within the space of a few years media players will have lost a large measure of their market share, ‘mind share’, and standing in society at large.
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In an interview, Dugmore describes that new media is increasingly integrating itself into the mainstream and those who resist it will be disappointingly left behind.
“I think you are going to see the importance of journalists reinventing themselves throughout the world to be able to work not only in a newspaper, TV or radio station but also be able to feed into the online and cellular sort of revolution and already that is happening,” says Dugmore.
Need for re-skilling
Concurring with him, Nancy Scola, associate editor with the American based award-winning online publication TechPresident , says millions of people are increasingly using the mobile phone and the Internet to communicate.
Scola, a lecturer on new media and Politics at New York University and one of the keynote speakers at the conference, argues that even in Africa which lags behind in connectivity as compared to the western world, the Internet and cell phones are taking the centre stage in social networking.
Drawing examples from President Barack Obama’s use of Internet in the 2008 elections, she says it would be dangerous for politicians to ignore new media.
She however cautions that politicians have potential to misuse the new media, citing examples from parts of Africa, where politicians incited voters to violence via mobile phones.
“In Kenya, right after the presidential elections, there was some use of mobile phones to intimidate and spur people into engaging in election violence… it is for journalists to get together and understand how politicians use mobile phones and Internet to achieve their own mission and not only to get dazzled in the whole process. We should not take what we see on the surface or even what people tell us as a true lead of what is happening inside organisations, inside campaigns, inside agencies which is true anytime you report on politics…it is exciting for upcoming journalism, me inclusive for it is quite a new field,” she adds.
According to Prof Harry Dugmore too, a cellphone is evolving rapidly as a multimedia convergence device and no one really has had a career path in this new phenomenon.
He says the mobile phone phenomenon is a boost and new dawn for democracy, as it is an important source of transparency… and would especially be a blessing in Africa, as citizens would monitor and judge democracy and fairness in elections.
“Certainly in repressive countries where people are concerned about the fairness of an election, cell phones are playing a more important role in allowing people to see if an election is fair because you can have monitors and people who are checking on the fairness of the election connected at the same time much more easily… citizens can take photographs of what is going wrong at an election station and that makes it much harder to cheat elections in Africa…
New tools, new needs
According to Astrid Kohl, Director, Institute of International Journalisms (IIJ) , the instruments for controlling the content that is published in the Internet are getting more and more sophisticated.
“Being in the midst of digital revolution we have to refer and turn our attention to the new instruments, which are getting more and more relevant… in order to ensure information flow, promote public debate and transparency in the business and political sectors,” argues Kohl.
Mobile reporters, she says, do not necessary address readers in remote areas but other publishing houses or the people outside the country and the publishing houses disseminate the same information to more people.
“Imagine having a mobile phone in a remote area… you can use it to wire information to radio stations, to print media houses or online … therefore new media helps in networking and disseminating information much faster than traditional media,” she says.
But can politicians ignore the cell phones and Internet revolution and survive?
“Definitely not,” says Dugmore.
“In Africa cell phones are the main way of keeping connected, especially the short messaging service (SMS)… through SMS you can reach people and even direct them to your website for more information… across the world certainly the Internet and in the last years, cell phones are the building blocks of a successful political campaign… they are not add-ons anymore, they are the core building blocks of a successful campaign,” he says.
“I am sure everybody is in awe of Barack Obama and how he used the Internet to win the American elections… His Internet strategy was amazing… we are going to see people in every country of the world trying to learn form Obama’s experience,” says Dugmore.
In Africa, Dugmore believes, there is “a very rapid transition… it is the fastest growing in Internet connectivity in the world… we have two undersea cables (Eassy, Seacom) that are landing this year and next year going to transform completely the scene… connectivity then will be cheaper and forty times faster.