Future of newspapers is at stake…newsroom convergence beckons

To survive the onslaught of technology newsrooms must converge


Technology has unlocked a new age for journalism. More and more people are getting hooked up to the Internet via computers and mobile phones. This means media audiences are accessing news and information online making print, radio and television media to lose the long time ‘monopoly’.

Advertisers, whose aim is to reach as many consumers as possible, are likely to shift to online platform causing a dent in media profits.

The arrival of the under-sea cable will probably be the biggest revolution in Kenya’s media industry, as it is expected to lower the cost of broadband connections significantly, allowing audiences to access news quickly and media houses to post news as it happens.

With the emerging technologies, experts now concur, it will never be business as usual for the media across the world. Emerging technologies including social networking tools like cell phones is completely reshaping media and political scenes.

Technology has opened a new front of journalism with citizens now empowered than ever to actively contribute news and even set agenda for the media. It’s a revolution that ignites memory of how far the media has come.

Technology has turned citizens into journalists and now news is out there before it is even printed…. (think of SMS, twitter, facebook, myspace etc)

Speed of dissemination and rate of feedback from audiences has sparked need for journalists to be more responsive and alert in their trade. Electronic (Television and Radio), print (newspaper, magazines) and online (news sites) platforms must now work together (converge) to cut costs and complement each other.

Justification for convergence

With increasing Internet connectivity following arrival of high speed  undersea fibre-optic cables in Kenya and the region, online journalism is now overtaking television and radio in terms of speed and scope.

The same has happened in developed countries and has seen media groups now investing intensively on online platforms to avoid being sent into oblivion.

Kenya is quickly catching up with this kind of technology and similar fate awaits it.

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 could be  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.

The power of the mobile phone

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.

“Today,citizens even out speed journalists and media houses in sending news to the world. Think of twitter, a short messaging system which interconnects millions of people world wide and YouTube which allows sharing of videos at a touch of a button,” argues James Ratemo, a blogger and ICT reporter of Kenya’s Standard newspaper.

The changing scenario has seen newspaper industry profits plummet as circulation falls and advertisers divert attention to online platform. The greatest impact has been in developed countries where internet penetration is high but developing economies in Africa and Asia are also faced with the same predicament and cannot escape.

Unfortunately according to studies, the trend worldwide shows that advertisers who turn to online scene do not necessarily place adverts on websites owned by media houses.

According to Ratemo, we have specialty websites dealing with specific services and products like automobiles, fashion, aviation, technology, telecommunication (e.g www.ictcradle.com, www.itu.int -international telecommunication union which are sites dedicated for technology and telecom news and information.)

Further, gone are the days when editors wielded power of determining how the news should flow. There are bloggers or just people with Internet connection who find themselves capturing news on cell phone cameras and sharing it the world over.

In his book, “Couch Potatoes Sprout: The Rise of Online Community Journalism,” Jack Driscoll, former top editor of the Boston Globe predicts a shift that would destabilize the modus operandi in the media scene.

” There  is quiet revolution by a new breed of communicators who are taking advantage of new electronic tools that enable their voices to be heard,” no matter where they are or what field they’ve worked in before, reads  the book, a 163-page tutorial published last year, in part.

Driscoll demystifies the news gathering process arguing that with technology you don’t need to have studied or even worked in journalism to make a contribution and reconnect people to their communities.

“People have something to offer because they are part of the wisdom of the community…they are people that care about the community and want to make a contribution but don’t want to run for office,” he argues.

.
No longer is the average person just a receptor of information,” Driscoll writes. “The consumer is now a creator. The ability to communicate widely and at little cost through words, voices or images is at everyone’s fingertips.”

To bring the point closer home, just see how the local newspapers have embraced the art of publishing feedback from readers. The letters to the editors page is no longer enough, the citizens have become more active in generating news from their own perspectives.
As the readers get excited about seeing their name in print or on the Web their zeal hikes and journalism takes a new turn.

Presenting a paper on new media  and need for convergence at an international media conference in Berlin Germany, Prof Harry Dugmore, MTN Chair of Media and Mobile Communications, Rhodes University, South Africa, said more people now have access to mobile phones than they have access to networked computers.

With the mobile phones, he argued, the masses have been empowered to share information during campaigns and even monitor the elections, leaving minimal chances for politicians to rig elections.

In essence, people no longer depend exclusively on mainstream media for information.

“Technology will allow people in Africa to leapfrog so that they can catch up with the world without all those stages of development,” said Dugmore, adding that by June 2009, people using cell phones would outstrip those using internet.”

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 Dugmore, upcoming journalists must embrace new media technology (online and mobile reporting) to survive because newspapers are increasingly becoming redundant.

With reducing, advertising income for media houses, it calls for strategies to cut down costs and utilize minimum human resources for maximum results especially for media companies owning print and electronic platforms.

Instead of having four reporters (print, radio, television and online) attending a similar function to generate stories for the different platforms, wisdom and economical sense calls for a shift where one or two reporters serve all the platforms.

This calls for training and equipping journalists to appreciate and adapt the new modus operandi.

“We are already in a scenario where news sites contain audio from radio reporters, text from print section, video from the television desk and photos from photojournalists, all seamlessly intertwined and accessible at a click. This calls for media houses to make   t h e   w e b    f i r s t   p r i o r i t y   with radio, photography, television and print desks complementing each other on the online platform,” Ratemo argues.

What is the future of newspapers in this technological age?

Newspapers that continue to succeed in the digital age will do so by developing their traditional relationships with readers, no matter how they’re delivered, Rupert Murdoch, a media guru and chairman of news corp (wall street journal, new york times etc), says in the new Innovations in Newspapers 2009 World Report, an annual survey released in April 27 2009  by the Innovation International Media Consulting Group for the World Association of Newspapers.

“Our success will still depend on the bond of trust between readers and our content, not on how many platforms we use,” he says in a preface to the

report.

“This annual report demonstrates powerfully how newspapers around the world are being reinvented in the digital age. I believe newspapers have a wonderful future. As printed products and as newly empowered news brands that deliver great journalism across many platforms customized to the interests of readers.”

But, Mr. Murdoch warns that complacency is the biggest threat to newspapers and that the real foe “is not competition from new technology, it is the complacency in our industry among people who have enjoyed monopolies, who have to compete for an audience they once took for granted, who don’t trust their audiences and who have not responded constructively to challenges from readers who no longer think editors are omnipotent oracles.”

“If we earn the trust and loyalty of our readers, good newspapers, and their electronic siblings will become even stronger news brands. They may not always be thrown over the fence each morning but their impact will continue to resonate in the communities they serve,” he says.

“Our role is to give our readers great journalism and great judgment. I am convinced circulation and readership will grow on web pages, through RSS feeds, in e-mails, on mobile devices and in printed newspapers,” he says.

The Innovations in Newspapers 2009 World Report is available and can be ordered, in pdf format through the WAN web site at http://www.wan-press.org/article18110.html or also in pdf and print format from the Innovations International Media Consulting Group at http://www.innovation-mediaconsulting.com

Innovation International Media Consulting Group is a global consultancy focusing on newspapers. It works in every continent helping newspapers to transform their products on paper, online and on air.

Conclusion-w h a t   p r o p o n e n t s   o f   o n l i n e   f i r s t  m e n t a l i t y   s a y :

With the fast evolving technology, having ‘online-first’  mentality would  be  c r u c i a l   t o   b e a t i n g   t h e   c o m p e t i t i o n   a n d   i t   m a y   e v e n   be   c r u c i a l    s u r v i v a l   a s   a   n e w s   o p e r a t i o n .

P o s t i n g   t h e   n e w s   a s   i t   h a p p e n s   c a n   h e l p   m a k e   y o u r   p u b l i c a t i o n   t h e   f i r s t   p l a c e   r e a d e r s   l o o k   f o r   b r e a k i n g   n e w s   i n   y o u r   c o v e r a g e   a r e a   – –   a n d   i t   c a n   h e l p   y o u   b e a t   r e g i o n a l   T V   s t a t i o n s   a n d   l a r g e r   d a i l i e s .

D o n ‘ t   t h i n k   f o r   a   s e c o n d   t h a t   y o u   a r e   b e t r a y i n g   y o u r   b e l o v e d   p r i n t   p r o d u c t .   C h a n g i n g   t h e   n e w s r o o m ‘ s   c u l t u r e   d o e s n ‘ t   m e a n   y o u   d o n ‘t   love   n e w s p a p e r s ;   i t   m e a n s   y o u   l o v e   g i v i n g   y o u r   a u d i e n c e   t h e   b e s t   j o u r n a l i s m   i n   t h e   m o s t  timely  w a y   p o s si b l e .

L e t ‘ s   f a c e   i t :   P e o p l e   s i t   i n   f r o n t   o f   c o m p u t e r s   f o r   m u c h   o f   t h e   d a y .   C a p i t a l i z e   o n   t h a t .   Y o u   c a n   r e a c h   mo r e   p e o p l e   a n d   g r o w   m o r e   q u i c k l y   i f   y o u   d e l i v e r   t h e   n e w s   t o   y o u r   r e a d e r s   i n   t h e   w a y   t h e y   a r e   m o s t  l i ke l y   t o   s e e   i t .

P a u l a   C a r l s o n ,   a s s o c i a t e   e d i t o r   o f   t h e   S u r r e y / N o r t h   D e l t a   L e a d e r   i n   B r i t i s h   C o l u m b i a ,   p o i n t s   o u t   t h a t   t h e   m e n t a l   s h i f t   s t a r t s   w i t h   u n d e r s t a n d i n g   t h a t   t h e   W e b   s i t e   i s n ‘ t   a   s u p p l e m e n t   t o   t h e   p a p e r .   ” I t   i s   a n   i n t e g r a l   c o m p o n e n t   o f   t h e   s a m e   p r o d u c t :   T h e   n e w s – g a t h e r i n g   f o r c e   i n   y o u r   c o m m u n i t y , ”   s h e   s a i d .   H e r   n e w s r o o m   t h i n k s   o f   b o t h   e n t i t i e s   a s   o n e   t w o – h e a d e d   b e a s t .   ” I t   s i m p l y   g e t s   f e d   a t   d i f f e r e n t   t i m e s , ”   s h e    said .

A s   y o u r   n e w s r o o m   g o e s   m o r e   a n d   m o r e   W e b – f i r s t ,   a   s e n s e   o f   p r i d e   a n d   a c c o m p l i s h m e n t   w i l l   k e e p   t h e   n e w s r o o m   m o v i n g   f o r w a r d   a n d   w a n t i n g   t o   b e   t h e   g o – t o   s i t e   f o r   n e w s   i n   t h e   a r e a .   A n d   t h i s   w i l l   h a v e   a n o t h e r   e f f e c t .   ” Y o u ‘ l l   f i n d   s o u r c e s   m o r e   w i l l i n g   t o   p a r t   w i t h   i n f o r m a t i o n   b e c a u s e   t h e y   k n o w   y o u ‘ r e   a b l e   t o   ‘ g o   l i v e ‘   w i t h   a   s t o r y   r i g h t   n o w ,   a n d   i f   t h e y   w a n t   t h e i r   v o i c e   i n   i t ,   t h e y ‘ l l   t a l k , ”   s h e   s a i d .

P a u l   P r o n o v o s t ,   e d i t o r   o f   t h e   C a p e   C o d   T i m e s   i n   H y a n n i s ,   M a s s . ,   s a i d   a   W e b – f i r s t   m e n t a l i t y   s t a r t s   w i t h   t e l l i n g   e m p l o y e e s   w h a t   i s   g o i n g   t o   h a p p e n   a n d   w h y .   T h e n ,   h e   s a i d ,   y o u   m u s t   c r e a t e   a   p r o c e s s .   ” W e   h a v e   r e p o r t e r s ‘   c o p y   r e a d   b y   a n   o n l i n e   n e w s   e d i t o r   b e f o r e   i t   i s   p o s t e d ,   w h i c h   s o l v e s   l o g i s t i c a l   i s s u e s   a n d   a l l a y s   a n y   f e a r s   a b o u t   l o w e r i n g   t h e   b a r   o n   q u a l i t y , ”   h e   s a i d .

J u l i e   W r i g h t ,   m a n a g i n g   e d i t o r   o f   t h e   A n c h o r a g e   ( A l a s k a )   D a i l y   N e w s ,   p u s h e s   t h e   W e b – f i r s t   p o i n t   w i t h   h e r   s t a f f   b y   c o n t i n u a l l y   a s k i n g   h e r   e d i t o r s :   ” I s   t h a t   o n   t h e   s i t e   y e t ?   I s   t h a t   o n   t h e   s i t e   y e t ?   W h e n   w i l l   i t   b e   o n   t h e   s i t e ?   I s   t h a t   o n   t h e   s i t e   y e t ?   W h y   h a v e n ‘ t   w e   u p d a t e d   t h a t ?   W h e n   w i l l   w e   u p d a t e   t h a t ? ”   S h e   s a i d ,   ” I   m a y   d r i v e   t h e m   c r a z y   a t   f i r s t ,   b u t   t h e y   g e t   t h e   p o i n t   p r e t t y   q u i c k l y . “

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