Social media took the internet culture in such an unpredictable manner that the internet public had to either join in or be left out. It has provided a platform for any party either an individual, company or organisation to express themselves directly with the internet publics(s). It is considered as a more direct ways to express oneself rather than allow someone else the privilege to interpret one’s input, expressions or thoughts. Social media has also provided for real-time participation by users with little or no editing or moderation. This in all has created a novel open internet society that has abruptly unintentionally forced for its recognition as a force not to ignore. This is due to large in part to its Media/press capabilities i.e. collection and dissemination of data and information via text, images and video.
As popular as it is social media still lacks the full capability to take on traditional News Media. This is due to its clustered, noisy and unedited nature. To provide adequate substantial news content, all the clustered, short quips and content have to be collected, verified, edited and formed into an actual comprehensive story. Much of the content is usually the end user’s single point of view and mostly have formed their own perceptions, views and opinions about the issue at hand. But Mass media or news Media has been blamed for not giving the full story about an issue or event hence many internet users turn to Social Interactive media to get to understand more of what actually transpired. To counter this an International media house CNN started a social interactive medium called iReport where ordinary people can upload their own news reports mostly in video format of what the have observed on the ground.
The power of social media was underestimated at first. Potential of its capability got witnessed during some of the recent major events and unprecedented occurrences. Notable examples were the Mumbai attack (2008), Iran elections (2009) and the USA elections (2008). As the attacks transpired, the public who were trapped within and around the hotspot in Mumbai provided real-time updates of the occurrences on the ground through a Social Networking medium called Twitter. The flurry of exchanges between users sending “Tweets” to the site and users reading updates was overwhelming that the Company Twitter had to monitor the extra ordinary heavy traffic from its users and take extra ordinary precautions to avoid crashing their system. Due to the inability of News Media to reach the ground zero for obvious security reasons their news content was based on the eyewitnesses’ accounts and the security forces press briefings. Due to the inability to get up-to-date news content news media found themselves in a dilemma on whether to wait to gain access to the hot spot or base their reporting on the content from the social interactive mediums.
Based on the lessons learned from Mumbai, News media was more prepared for future occurrences and this was witnessed during the Iran elections in early 2009. The unpredictable outcome, unprecedented public demonstrations and violence provided a test for the young courtship ability between the News Media & Social Media. The Iranian government blocked International media from covering the election results and even ejected many of their journalists from the country and local journalists were suppressed and even jailed. Having acquired valuable lessons from before, it was no surprise for News media turned to social Interactive Media as their source of news and information. Twitter, Facebook, Flicker and You Tube were the most used social media sources for updates, stories, images and video content. The ordinary person on the street was now the informal journalist. The Iranian government observed this and tried to suppress the flow of information by interrupting Internet and Mobile networks services, but they were not fully successful. One way or another information still streamed through social media to the News Media.
But these examples are more of co-operation between both forms of media. The USA elections of 2008 showed the competitive edge of Social Networking Media. Vast majority of politicians adopted its use to reach out especially to the young vibrant voters. This was also due in part that Candidates were dissatisfied with the way the Older Traditional media interpreted their statements and actions before conveying it to the public and in the end politicians felt they were being sold short and their actual views were not reaching their potential voters. Candidates resorted to releasing video, images and their version of campaign news through their websites and social interactive media account pages so as to avoid the editing, alteration and deletion of their statements as much as possible. Traditional News Media was forced to vigorously monitor candidate’s updates though their alternative paths for updates for even press releases were being released on these forums prior to being sent to Media Houses. This angle generates a huge threat to traditional News Media in that by the time the news content acquired through monitoring the new media goes through the editorial process and is published or aired, the news content could be considered as stale or past by events. This really put the editorial teams on their toes.
A local example of the use of social interactive media was during the 2007 Elections. Though the political Candidates did not use the Social Networking Media widely it is during the Post Election Violence that its potential was witnessed. Websites such as Facebook, BBC, CNN, Ushahidi and You tube were used by the Kenyan public, thanks to Mobile technology, to convey what was happening on the ground. On most instances the events being informed about where areas where the News Crews could not reach. These websites became a rich source of data and information especially to the Urban Kenyan and the Kenyan Diaspora, who used them to monitor the extent of violence and hotspots to avoid.
Currently many Kenyan media houses especially those in broadcasting have adopted social networking media as part of their operation apparatus. Some of the media houses use them in ingenious ways for example being used to relay questions to guests on Talk Shows or even request a song. One Media house even has its own Channel on You Tube where it uploads news clips of current events. This Channel experienced heavy traffic than usual during the Post election violence especially due to access from the Kenyans in the Diaspora who were hungry for news updates.
Social Interactive Media proven viability has seen dedication of budgets and administrative development of New Media and Internet Departments in Kenyan Media houses.
With reduction in sales of newspapers and increased competition in an already cut throat broadcast media seeking for the attention of both consumers and advertisers, Media houses are being forced to turn to New media and social Media as a way of updating their corporate image, gain a more competitive edge while retaining/improving current market status.
Kenyan Social Interactive media scene is yet to create a substantial effect on the News Media but it would be ignorant of them not to prepare. With the entry of two fibre optic cables and a third cable on its way, internet charges are bound to reduce drastically and demand and number of users is bound to will increase.
But this question still lingers, Evolution or adaptation? Only the future holds the answer. All we could do is just wait and maybe discuss it further on a Facebook forum or Twitter….