Media has been at the centre of information dissemination across cultures and communities. Humanity has since time immemorial always relied on the media for information and entertainment.
However, journalism has evolved over the years. People no longer need to wait for the arrival of the latest edition of the newspaper or even an evening news bulletin, news reports are now in their proximity; in the palm of one’s hand. This can be attributed to the advent of technology.
Taking a huge leap from an early morning purchase of newspapers, to opening a news application on a smartphone, from renting a Blu-Ray disc, paying for a phone call at a phone shop to streaming on a smart television, buying a cookbook to receiving selected customised recipe options on smartphones, it’s clear journalism has evolved.
Today, everyone creates content and established publishers are competing in that space. We are in an era where the industry is confronted with regulatory uncertainty. On the other hand, there is an untense demand for new skills for journalists, making certain positions and skills obsolete.
Trends shaping how news is created, distributed and consumed
From Johannes Gutenberg’s 15th century magical invention of the printing press, nobody anticipated the disruptive innovations that supervened. Gutenberg arguably became the father of mass media literacy, revolutionising information dissemination by making it feasible for mass production of printed material, efficiently and at a minimum cost. Publishers and literature lovers are forever grateful to Gutenberg. We marvel at books, pamphlets and newspapers owing to the printing press. This also changed fortunes for the media across the African continent and Zimbabwe, particularly the Mashonaland and Zambesian Times.
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We expeditiously moved to the telegraph, and later telephone, making it possible to transmit messages instantly over a long distance. For journalism, news could move in a flash and newspapers found an answer to reporting events as they happened. 20th century midwifed radio, a magic sound box that monopolised airwaves and opened a plethora of opportunities for the media to reach a wider audience: in real time.
For the first time, news could be carried into households. But, it was not long before this was subtly altered. Television was born; integrating visual elements to news, completely bringing a new way of looking at journalism.
Events were seen as they happen, live coverage became enhanced and the living room birthed new life and relevance. Interestingly, radio and television have stood the test of time despite latest disruptive innovations.
In Africa predominantly, radio remains a popular medium, but this will likely change as internet penetration gains significant margins. Even more interesting, Netflix and other streaming services have come and disrupted cable and terrestrial television, while the e-reader is already threatening the book industry. The internet approached the stage and the media industry regenerated. In Zimbabwe, we witnessed the disappearance of Liberty Cinema, Rainbow Cinema and city libraries from the scene.
Nobody knew or ever dreamt of a global audience and competition. News cycles and production chains came under huge re-evaluations. Citizen journalists were born. Impressions, page views, bounce rate became buzzwords and publishers and journalists scramble for attention. It did not take long before the parturition of the magic device, mobile phone.
Without a thought, social media platforms have become creativity hubs where people share news and opinions with worldwide reach. Individuals are now empowered to share news from anywhere, competing with journalists for breaking news. The digital camera, well, RIP Kodak. Images can now be shared in real time, and in enhanced quality. Photojournalism has been made easy.
In the current wave, we are talking of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and there are fears that journalists are at risk of losing relevance owing to the advent of technologies that have capacity to perform tasks demanding human intelligence.
Of late, in early adopters of digital, AI is being used to harvest audience data and analytics as digital demands and allows a deep understanding of the audience to make journalism relevant. Of course, basic tenets of journalism have not changed yet, but the birth of multiple platforms and complex audience dynamics require innovation to be at the centre of newsrooms. Progressive newsrooms have cheated creative destruction by redefining their journalism, and employing audience focus strategy. This has seen the rise in employment of data scientists and specialised technical persons such as developers.
Adapt or die
Newsrooms are becoming more and more data informed, making it easy to create compelling relevant content. In advanced economies, they are already experimenting with virtual reality; an innovation that is projected to create storytelling experiences which may be deployed for reporting in dangerous and inaccessible locations. Apple has just released its virtual reality and augmented reality, Apple Vision Pro which will be available early next year.
Today’s newsroom is largely shaped by immediacy, interactivity and participation. Audiences are no longer passive and to a greater extent, they are dictating content formats and coverage. Research is showing growth in digital news consumption, including advertising.
There are vast opportunities for publishers who are willing to stay in business and use these disruptive innovations to their advantage. Publishers need to admit that the season of approaching news business without a formula and strategy are long gone.
There is high demand for journalists to be in bed with latest information and innovation, data and research included. Data will allow creation of roadmaps and editorial manuals that will allow an organised newsroom operation to take place. Of course, this depends on the organisation’s digital maturity; change is difficult. The only way out: building data-informed culture and up-skilling talent.
However, the greatest threat to transformation is journalists themselves. They can be classified in three categories, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants and Digital Refugees. Of the three categories, Digital Refugees will sink any ship; and newsrooms better watch out for them. We meet next week!!
- Silence Mugadzaweta is Digital & Online editor for Alpha Media Holdings and Content Strategies Blogger for International News Media Association .