Imagine this, the year is 1912 and you are a Newspaper Journalist, and you hear of an invention called the RADIO & its great potential in journalism, wouldn’t you be worried? Now imagine, the year is 1950 and you are a radio journalist and there is a huge buzz about the latest invention called TELEVISION, would you have panicked? Journalism is a profession that has undergone a Darwinian process of evolution, from the talking drums and smoke signals to town criers and information posters to telegrams and newspapers to radio and television and now the internet and mobile telephony.
New or advanced technologies are often seen as a hindrance or a threat by what may be perceived as already “established” professions e.g. Computers to the “then” Secretary with her loyal typewriter, the digital watch to the “then” watch maker, the tractor to the “then” farmer with his hoe etc. This article is in relation to the current to be “then” journalist to his/her pen. Gone are the days of writing stories in shorthand and typing them later in the newsroom. Technology has been creeping into all professions and hasn’t spared the fourth estate and this is witnessed in all levels and departments i.e. from editorial to printing, from news gathering to news dissemination etc . It’s purpose has become synonymous with the everyday operations of a media house. This has presented an opportunity to Media Houses to use it as an excuse to layoff “unskilled” staff and streamline their operations. In addition new technologies have presented a ubiquitous approach to access news i.e. through mobile phones either by SMS, News Apps or mobile Internet, Computers i.e. through websites, blogs, email newsletters etc. But to be fair to Media Houses, Samantha Spooner, a New Media practising journalist from a prominent Kenyan media house, states that some media houses are forced to invest in their staff to bring them up to speed but the reality of the situation is that following strict editorial policy for so long has made them resistant to this evolution. She continues further to indicate that
it has been a long time since such an evolution revolution occurred and they aren’t as dynamic as before!
Those who create, develop and invest in new technologies are the ones who write the rules of tomorrow.
As much as we acknowledge the presence and purpose of such technology whether software or hardware, journalists are yet to fully or partially explore its potential. In recent training workshops on Development Journalism sponsored by UNDP, the session on New Media seemed to be an eye opener and a beginners class on New Media rather than a deliberation of how New Media can be used in sparring Development Journalism. This is where it came to my realisation that as much as we know of somethings availability do we really know what it really is and how it can be used to one’s advantage? During the training sessions, we came to see how elaborating to the journalist with the basic knowledge of New Media empowers them to improve their methodology in reporting in terms of increased news collection, faster dissemination and improve creativity. Kenyan reporters are dynamic, versatile and resilient and I witnessed this in Mombasa earlier in the year where in the middle of a workshop journalists armed with a mobile phone, camera and a laptop were able to stay attentive in the training sessions while gather and send stories back to their respective news rooms. As I witnessed this impressive sight I could not help but wonder whether a huge majority Kenyan Journalists operate similarly to caged fleas that are not aware of how far they can jump.
journalists and the media in general urgently need to comprehend the New World.
He was in particular referring to New Media facilitating for Citizen Journalism to flourish for it is more grassroots’ and does not require much skill to execute.
To show the importance of New/Social Media in the journalism realm a research carried out in the UK carried out by iCD research suggest that a majority of people turn to the news website for breaking news. Interestingly you will notice Social Media is in second place in ranking.
Many journalists in Kenya or developing nations as a whole highly assume that the use of new technologies applies to corporate news rooms with big budgets and view it more of a personal privilege than a very near future necessity hence ignoring as how they can use it to their own individual & professional advantage. With organisations ever looking for ways of cost cutting, reduction of labour costs is usually the immediate technique. With this in mind the journalists should be aware of their corporate operations and plan to be steps ahead before such fate befalls them due to their lack of knowledge and skills to operate in highly evolving working environments.
In my previous articles I mentioned a few new technological tools that could be used to improve productivity & where they being used with success. To narrow down on practical situations we can look at it from the chain of operation from which news moves from collection to dissemination.
News Gathering and Research:
Traditionally collection and is undertaken by observation and recording by either writing or recording through video camera or recorders in scenarios such as interviews, press conferences, incidents and events. In my previous article “New Media + Journalism = National Development?” I conducted interviews through Twitter and Email and with great success. Recently I held an interview and meeting with Masters Students from UK over Video conferencing via Skype for over two hours and later continued interacting via Twitter and email. Journalists can also use New Media and Social Media to create a contact list e.g. an airline company has crashed and there is a huge debate about mechanical failure, you as a journalist are seeking for professional or an experts point of view, one can use sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to communicate or get the contacts of an Aeronautical engineer either locally or abroad. LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site mainly used for professional networking. Social Media websites like Foursquare can prove to be useful when searching for persons who are located in a certain location of interest e.g. you as a journalist are in Mombasa and you have received information of an on going social event of huge significance in Nairobi, one may use FourSquare to know who is at the location and be able to contact them and get their eyewitness accounts of the event.
New Media can also be used to observe which topics are of interest to the potential news consumers. A perfect local example is the recent “Makmende” craze. Just-A-Band, a local Music band produced a video and published it on YouTube and it was marketed on Twitter and Facebook. The video link spread around the social media like a virus and eventually it became a News Topic on the TV, Radio and newspapers.
In a world where Breaking News, Press Releases and other content is being released first via tools such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook etc by Corporate organisations for their press releases on quarterly reports, profits and loss reports, celebrities with their album launches, events and their never ending sagas etc these avenue should be thoroughly be taken advantage of by the future journalist. Classic examples are Tiger Woods and Chris Brown released his apology statements via YouTube and Twitter and this was caught by savvy journalists who reported on it immediately.
New Media has provided several mediums to be taken advantage of journalists from all fields i.e. print and broadcast.
These are websites (or part of) that are usually used as a journal. This journal can be used to share news stories, commentaries, reviews or even personal stories. The published stories usually enable readers to comment on the published stories. Examples of free blogging website include WordPress and Blogspot. They allow private users to create, manage and run their own blogs.
On completing my previous articles on New Media and Journalism, I immediately published my pre-edited version on my blog on WordPress. The articles were now accessible to anyone who was seeking information based on the articles. Blogs usually allow for the incorporation of multimedia content i.e. photos, video or podcasts. Journalists can use this as their own “fully fledged Media House”.
Successful blogs tend to create a loyal readership and usually has subscribers and can prove to be influential. Such an example of is The Huffington Post which is a News Blog owned by Arianna Huffington who has contracted several columnists and contributors. Sadly in Kenyan blogging scene, the most influential bloggers are not journalists. They include WhiteAfrican.com, KenyanPundit.com, MosesKemimbaro.com, Kahenya.com to name a few. During the 2008 Post Election violence, Kenyan blogs proved a vital source of information with bloggers sharing their views and observations while incorporating audio-visual content, and facilitated comments from readers.
Other mediums for publishing print/image content include websites such as Demotix which is a website whose goal is publishing user-generated news. Demotix is a citizen journalism website and photo agency that offers for user-generated stories to be published and even can facilitate for stories and photos to be purchased from the website on behalf of the journalist.
Using Wikipedia’s definition, a webcast is a media file distributed over the Internet using streaming media technology to distribute a single content source to many simultaneous listeners/viewers. A webcast may either be distributed live or on demand. Essentially, webcasting is “broadcasting” over the Internet. This applies to both Audio and Visual content. This implies that one can set up a radio or TV station through the internet.
Several facilities are available for free or at a charge. Ustream and LiveStream are examples of websites that facilitate for live streaming by registered users. They are an interactive broadcast platform that enables anyone with an Internet connection and a camera to engage their audience in a meaningful, immediate way. It facilitates for the user to broadcast to an audience of unlimited size either as Live Broadcast or Recorded. Registered users are allowed to create their own channels for their content and at no charge. In the local scenario journalists can use such a facility to broadcast live events such as rallies, conferences, talk shows, sports events etc. They can even take it further and be broadcasting
daily news programs. UStream for example has been used in Kenya to transmit live events by organisations such as iHub (ICT innovation laboratory in Nairobi) and 1% Club (organisation that advocates volunteering 1% of oneself for a good cause) to name a few. This facility goes a step further by facilitating the transmitter to interact with their viewers by either Chat, Twitter or comments.
You Tube and Vimeo on the other hand are examples of social video websites used to upload, share, store, download and comment on user-generated videos and they are free to use. Both websites can not be used to transmit live content.
Photojournalists should not feel left out. Flickr, Picasaweb, Photobucket, Demotix and DeviantArt are some of the mediums available to showcase their photojournalism skills. Demotix and DeviantArt also facilitate for the sale of photographs on behalf of the registered user.
A podcast is a series of digital media files (either audio or video) that are released by episodes and can be downloaded to PC’s or portable devices by subscribers. The owner of the podcast can decided to either charge for the podcasts or offer it for free. This is a favourable way to listen to user-generated content especially to news or other programs due to its ability to be accessed offline after it has been downloaded.
Publishing one’s story doesn’t mean the end the cycle is over. As stated earlier while using New Media one should consider themselves as a mini media House, hence the next step should be marketing. You can publish all the stories you want but who will read them if you can market yourself? A prominent editor from the Daily Nation commented on the workshop on how he uses New Media such as Social Media to reach out to potential readers. He stated that within the first hour of advertising his article he has already many hits and several comments about the article, and this is before the article is even published in the following day’s paper. Use of New Media and Social Media for dissemination and advertising oneself can have a profound effect especially if the content is consistently of high standards. Use of avenues such as Social Media has the potential of creating Grapevine referrals which can go far and wide in the virtual world. This usually may result to increased readership and subscription to one’s New Media stations i.e. either Blogs, Webcasting Channels, Podcasts etc. The journalist can go a step further and institute a periodic Newsletter to subscribers.
In terms of equipment, many portable equipment is available for use which are simple to carry and use. These include digital camera, digital recorder, laptop and a mobile phone. But with the latter becoming more and more sophisticated, it is becoming much easier for the journalists to operate due to the reduction in weight in carrying much equipment. A good example is the iPhone which in it are a recorder, camera, Notepad and internet and very many other Apps which could be useful to the journalism field. Now with the introduction of the iPad, relevance of tool such as a Laptop or a computer may be dimming. It’s not only Apple products with these capabilities. Others include Blackberry, Samsung, LG products. Some of these gadgets may seem expensive but the long-term value from its use will surpass it. Alternatively there are other competing gadgets that may offer near similar functionalities at a fairer price.
With the availability of gadgets which are practical in all ways from News Gathering to Dissemination, operating as a journalist seems to be highly simplified. But at a different look, if incorporating New Media is not taken advantage off by the profession, this has also simplified anyone to practice Citizen Journalism from the palm of their hands hence increasing competition to an already cut throat competitive field.
Rules of using New Media for Journalism
- Keep a record. This could either be through a recording or paper trail especially if it is used for interviewing purposes. Skype for example allows for one to record a call (either video or audio). Same applies to Yahoo Messenger which allows archiving of chat messages.
- Distinguish between Professional and Social use of New Media. If interested in using New Media for professional purposes then create different profiles which potential subscribers can gain access to without them having to access your personal information. A good example is journalists from CNN usually add the organisations name to their profile name on Social Media networks so as to distinguish their professional to personal accounts.
- Be responsible. Publishing is publishing, no matter the media used to broadcast. Recently a Senior Editor at CNN resigned after publishing a “controversial” tweet. It is due to this oversight by the editor that the irresponsible use of less than 140 characters was enough to send her packing besides having been with the media house for many years and was respected by the journalism community and the public.
Advantages of using New Media
- One of the main advantages is the increased ownership of content with no or minimum editing from a third-party. The journalist’s point of view can be well projected without it being subjected to other party’s contribution.
- New Media can also be used as a medium for journalists to publish the stories which did not see the light of day in their respective media houses.
- If very well established in the New Media environment the journalists can use this as a means for additional income by charging subscribers to access premium content and also sale of material e.g. photographs and stories. Some blogs have proved to be able to pull large readership that they have been able to attract sponsors and advertisers, case in point The Huffington Post.
- Professional standards tend to improve since some of the mediums allow for feedback from consumers e.g. a published article in a blog may attract comments which may provide positive criticism, request for in-depth look into the story or even contribute and suggest a new story. Since New Media rides on a ubiquitous medium called the internet it lengthens the Journalists reach of operation e.g. you could be based in Garissa but interview a person of interest based in Japan through Skype. This in the end improves the quality of stories to be published.
- Increased Creativity. The ability to use a multimedia approach to a News story gives a journalist many options on being creative.
- Use of New Media carries with it very low costs. Since most facilities offer free services, much of the charge is carried out by communication channel providers i.e. ISPs or Telephony companies.
- Above all, New Media does not require much skill to operate. And this also facilitates for easier and faster publishing and dissemination of stories. New Media can be operated from simple devices as mobile phones from the Collection to Dissemination point.
- Kenya has the 7th highest Facebook population in Africa with an estimated 760 000
- The CIA Fact book reports that Kenya has a 85% literacy rate
- There are an estimated 4-million Kenyans online of Kenya’s 40-million population
- Mobile internet subscribers stand at 1,98-million according to the Communications Commission of Kenya’s latest figures
With these quoted facts and about an additional approximate 14 million mobile subscribers, aint this a clear indication that the Kenyan journalist still has a wide playing field out of the traditional media channels? With Digital broadcasting switchover quickly approaching and the fibre optic cable being laid across the country and the 4 undersea fibre optic cables arriving into the country, the everyday Kenyan journalist’s potential is yet to be tested.
Characteristics of the Future Journalist
Though I am advocating for New Media journalism I should make it clear that there are certain characteristics which shall define the future journalist and these include
- Open minded
- Understand pros and cons
Besides these characteristics the journalist should stick to the professional basic fundamentals which include
- Journalism ethics
- Critical thinking & judgement
- Critical Reading, Research and analysis
- Professional reporting and writing skills
To prove the viability of all the above, I have conducted much of this story from my iPod Touch which has internet capability, accessed most of the above facilities. The interactions with the stated persons were via Twitter and email. This was done while at home, Banking Halls, reception areas, public vehicles etc and all it has cost me is time and battery charging. In fact most of my articles are generated and published from my iPod Touch.
If you ain’t with us already then it is with my hope that we shall be sharing notes on this topic soon after you have commenced.Ephraim Muchemi Sent from my iPod Touch http://littlehacker.wordpress.com Twitter: @e_muchemi Skype: flyefi Y! Msn: emuchemi