The best way to begin this article is by sharing the story of the teenager from Malawi who dropped out of school but taught himself through the public library and at the age of 14 transformed his rural village by building electric windmills out of a junk bicycle and tractor fan. During a television interview in the USA he said during his first experience with the internet was after his fame and 5 years later after his invention. He “Googled” the word Windmills and he could not comprehend the amount of information presented before him through a small screen within seconds. It was at that moment he wondered
“Where has it (Internet) been all this time?”
The most obvious thought that comes into one’s mind is “What if he was aware and used the Internet before coming up with his creation?”
According to Wikipedia, New Media is a term meant to encompass the emergence of digital,
computerized, or networked information and communication technologies in the later part of the 20th century. Most technologies described as “New Media” are digital, often having characteristics of being manipulated, networkable, dense, compressible, interactive and impartial. Some examples may be the Internet (databases, websites such as blogs, social networking websites etc), Mobile telephony (SMS, MMS, etc). New Media is not television programs, feature films, magazines, books, or paper-based publications.
New Media with Technology Convergence shifts the model of mass communication, and this has radically shaped the ways we interact and communicate with one another in the modern society. How can it be used to reach out and be utilised in the conservative and underprivileged groups? According to Erik Hersman in his article, “THE DARK CONTINENT: ITS STILL DARK”, he states that
“Those who create, develop and invest in new technologies are the ones who write the rules of tomorrow”
Kenya and Africa as a whole is on the verge of a technical revolution, why shouldn’t the Mass Media be the one to guide this process?
New Media is here and now. It has been very well received in Kenya with a clear indicator being a research conducted by a research firm Synnovate (formerly Steadman) revealing that there are over two million users of the Social Networking website Facebook in Kenya, with a vast majority accessing the site from their mobile phones. Why is this? New Media brings people together, creating a platform for collecting and sharing information and in a faster, more interactive way amongst other positives characteristics. It is also borderless and ubiquitous. Sadly this potential is not being experienced by all sections of the society. Media houses concentrate using New Media to reach out to educated and skilled users and overlooking its potential in opening doors and reaching out to the out of reach audience.
Why should a pastoralist have to wait to reach civilisation for them to borrow a newspaper instead of receiving the news faster through other means? Shouldn’t the journalism profession encourage use of New Media amongst all indiscriminately and eventually play an indirect role in improving the development status of fellow Kenyans?
With the United Nations targeting all member nations to have achieved Millennium Development Goals by 2015, New Media can and has been used extensively by social movements to educate, organize, share cultural products of movements, communicate, coalition build, and much more. United Nation as a prime example has well received New Media as a potential partner in achieving its goals and objectives. Recently the UN Special Envoy for Malaria announced a special Social Media Envoy group that will use social media over the next year to raise awareness for Malaria control in African countries. This was done with the hope that the messages spread across such medium will inspire and motivate its audiences in support of the initiative.Recently during the Pan African Media Conference at KICC, President Kibaki took an interesting note of the role New Media plays in society and how it can be linked with Youth development, with a majority of New Media consumers being the youth.
New Media in Kenya has seen its share of practical use in reaching out to the masses. Good example was during the 2007 General Elections where political parties and supporters used New Media to reach out to potential voters. But on the negative note the very same medium especially SMS was used in co-ordinating and spreading negative and dangerous activities. In other parts of the world the Washington Post is currently using the Ushahidi Platform to collect data and use the information received to map out for the readers where the road blockages were when USA was hit by snowstorms had heavily affected the country and what was the damage witnessed. Ushahidi is a platform made by Kenyans to facilitate collection of real-time information and data through SMS, email or direct input and be finally the information is portrayed in a Map. It was first used in Kenya to collect data from the public during the Post Election Violence period in 2008, and was used to map the hotspots and the information disseminated for public viewing through its website www.ushahidi.com.
Mass Media in Kenya has not well conceptualised the potential of New Media and it is still dragging its feet. A few years ago National Educational Exam results used to be printed or broadcasted on Mass media, but with changing technology scene results are readily available through mediums such as the organisation’s SMS service and websites, hence the Kenyan Mass Media is slowly losing out on a vital audience. The other day I happened to observe the proceedings of two events here in Nairobi but through the Internet and it was being streamed Live. The were no news reports about these events on broadcast news but one event did get the attention of a daily newspaper but one week later. Mr. Aly Khan Satchu warns that
in the modern world Content is King. Platforms that are unable to garner good content will wither and die.
This then raises a point to ponder,
is this an indicator that the practice of journalism in Kenya lacks foresight, initiative, creativity and innovation and just goes with the flow of the tide?
To bring out its importance of this issue I sought views from people from different backgrounds i.e. the Policy Builder, the Everyday Professional, the New Media Entrepreneur, The Media Trainer and the Media House Professional.
The Policy Maker: Mr. Patterson Siema, a Communications Specialist with UNDP Kenya, points out that New Media has a potential of reaching audiences that have hitherto been unreached, therefore providing media houses with the opportunity to reach a bigger audience. This makes information available to people who may be in most need of it therefore providing them with an opportunity to prosper though access to information. Media houses have an opportunity to access more information especially from remote areas. In addition he adds that with the New Media tools journalists have the capabilities to file their stories from remote areas and in a quick and efficient way. New Media is interactive and media houses can be able to observe the articles that their audience is most interested in. This provides them with instant feedback which enables the media houses to develop content that is of interest to the audience. He further points out that Journalist are the most advantaged beneficiaries of New Media since they are able to interact directly with their audience and they also have a chance to gather information and data using New Media making their work easier.
The Everyday Professional : Mr. Aly Khan Satchu, (www.rich.co.ke) a celebrity investor, financial analyst, author and contributor on The Star newspaper, states that we all exist in a New World where the Relationship between Content and Platforms has inflected. He further states that a Journalist has never been faced with such a flat Landscape and it is entirely disjunctive. For such platforms journalists and the media in general urgently need to comprehend the New World. He observes that New Media has allowed a thousand flowers to bloom where previously it was a closed garden. This is in particular reference to New Media facilitating for Citizen Journalism to flourish for it is more grassroots’ and does not require much skill to execute. According to Mr Satchu, New Media platforms like the Mobile Phone is the Silver Bullet when it comes to reaching people in the marginalised areas and the Media should take advantage of this platform.
The New Media Entrepreneur: In Mr. Kahenya Kamunyu’s forecasts that New media and in particular Social Media will be the future of content in terms of Content Generation and Distribution. People will seek alternative sources for their news and other media that is relevant to their lives or current situations. Kahenya (a prominent entrepreneur and a popular Kenya blogger) further states that eventually even governments will be concerned by the amount of content flowing out and into the general public. News sources will now have more than one source since the public will become the audience and will respond to situations as they arise. In his view Social media will enable people to express themselves in a way that mainstream media will not be able to. They will enlighten the world on their existence and how they drive their world. They will tell their success stories and failures and lessons learnt.
The ICT expert: In Moses Kemibaro view, New Media especially Social Media is undoubtedly mainstream in Kenya with it being popularly accessed via the mobile phone. Therefore, media hours and journalists need to use the same either as organizations or individuals to reach out to an audience that already consumes a great deal of content via these channels. He further tends to think that blogs that are linked to Social Media like Facebook and Twitter are invaluable in reaching an extremely broad range of internet users in Kenya. Moses (CIO of DotSavvy and blogger www.moseskemibaro.com)himself has wide experience in New Media being a blogger and actor and consumer of Social Media. He projects that this same approach would be invaluable for development related communications.
The Media Trainer: Ms. Grace Githaiga (media educator, researcher and currently undertaking a PhD in Communication and Digital Inclusion) contributes on this topic that New media has changed the way information is produced and shared and this has forced media houses to change strategies to engage in ways of producing and sharing information. It has allowed streaming of images, audio, and video information, breaking country barriers and allowing people to share information. Further, new media allows the editorial staff to be able to create better stories faster. This is through speeding up of the research phase of writing a story, providing better access to internal and external documents, news, and facts. This can culminate in more informed perspectives and local research. Also, new media provides an opportunity for content providers. No matter what the media house goal or strategy is, original content must be a part (large) of the plan. Media houses should not cling to their distribution channel. Rather, they need to take their content and spread it across platforms for them to survive. New media does not immediately supplant traditional media but disrupts and offers opportunities and challenges to traditional media’s future. In her view New Media has the potential for catalysing dialogue and collective community actions that would lead to positive social change. It can be used to reach more people or get them on board on certain campaigns for pastoralists, farmers, fisherfolk etc, in turn, creating potential supporters for campaigns. She however notes that for this to be done professionally and Media organizations may have to come up with a social media policy with specific rules of engagement across multiple networks. She also projects that we will soon be talking about “prosumers” meaning that the public will no longer be a consumer but a producer of information.
In my view Mass Media currently uses New Media for simply disseminating news and getting feedback from the reader.
But this can be improved. New Media can be used to create an agenda, educate and promote good social acts and development issues and collect more refined data from the public. It also has provided a greater potential for Media Houses to customise news according to the user, either in terms of regional, cultural or even simply tastes. With digital broadcasting deadline approaching it would be of interest to see whether national broadcasters may take up this challenge of segmenting news according to the consumers needs.
Mass Media has a viable partner in New Media and should be adopted as a Siamese twin as it is getting tougher everyday for them to operate.
With a population of 40 million, with approximately 55% being between the age 15-60 yrs (main consumers of media content), literacy rate of 85% and having over 3.4 million internet users and over 10 million mobile subscribers, is the Media really doing enough to reach out to all these potential consumers and take credit for encouraging National Development?
These statistics give a clear hint that the growth of the Media in all aspects is good for a Nation.
My advice to the Media is that it should ensure it maintains and sustain its authority in news collection and dissemination. The journalism profession has to take up the challenge and reach out to the potential consumers through innovative and creative ways and I am sure they will not forget and this may eventually maintain if not increase their loyalty to the media.