Press Freedom, Social Media, Fake News and other short stories in between

It’s Press Freedom week…critical minds for critical times
Great strides have been made in ensuring press freedom across Africa (well at least compared to a decade ago). Some countries have relaxed laws while some have tightened theirs to regulate the fourth estate around the continent. The challenging reality though is that intimidation of journalists by the ‘powers that be’ has seen some journalists get frustrated and forced out of careers they’re passionate about to other occupations.

Joy-Doreen-Biira_jail-1
Joy Doreen Biira at Kasese Police station (Uganda) during her arrest in Nov. 2016

Some Journalists have received death threats, have been arrested and violently interrogated, kidnapped, tortured for stories they are covering and investigating. Some have been detained for no particularly reason but that they merely stated that they’re journalists! On the flip side, journalists have also been celebrated for their bold, brave and exemplary work.

Print and broadcast Journalism today faces far greater challenges than ever before. We live in a journalistic era where the only uncompressed space could possibly be online. Online journalism has risen fast with citizen journalists (let’s call them ‘netizens’) who are a little unsatisfied and impatient to wait all day for a prime time bulletin for updates. Also dissatisfactions with the delivery by the government owned or privately owned print papers, magazines, radio, broadcast stations or news websites.
Today, News is broken first online before it hits that TV, radio newspaper as on radio and television one has to wait for the top of the hour to listen to or watch the latest news cast and for print the morning after for a copy of their favorite daily. To remain in the game to get it first and fast to the audience, the media are leveraging on their impressive or mass online following as news sources to also claim the online number one slot in delivery of factual and authoritative news. As more eyeballs shift to online consumption of news, the media have had to dig deeper into their pockets and invest heavily in digital teams to drive their social media platforms as high up as possible to satisfy their followers and maintain loyalty. This, as they reinvent to keep circulation of newspapers high and viewers glued to their television sets despite all the technological challenges. It’s a viciously competitive business.

Millennial era
Online business gurus most of them millennials, have taken away a financial share of what in a less technologically advanced space, would make media houses an extra hundred, thousand, million dollars in additional revenue. Advertisements that were previously a production of an entire broadcast house production team are now being done by two or three young madly creative millennials in their mid twenties for half the cost or less. This has also cost the typical electronic media outlet forcing them to right size some of the organizations departments leading to loss of employment for hundreds and possibly thousands across the continent. The technology disruption has caused a wave of change that today’s journalist must have over average skills in technology to survive the latest job market demands besides their journalistic prowess. For instance a broadcast journalist unlike before where they their duty was to script a story and have it edited, media house recruitment officers and agents are going for the journalist who can write a script, edit the video footage for television, make a shorter version of it for the online audience and write a separate script for the website. should that media house also own a radio station one is required to send a report to the radio station. That’s the Journalist being recruited today so  young and upcoming journalists need to acquire these skills.

Fake News
As online journalism also grows, so has fake news. There is more propaganda wielding online news now than ever before. Fabrication of news to gain more likes, shares, retweets and comments are proving to be the biggest obstacle news production. Even authentic news sources or outlets have fallen victim to this. This challenge here is now media have to compete with these fake news sources. But also   ‘Netizens’ are using the online space as a selling point for their text blogs, video blogs, live broadcasts online to grab the attention of online audiences or eyeballs. To stay in the game, Electronic media now have to use those same tools to broadcast authentic, factual, believable information that will draw the millions of eyeballs to them. A media house without active Facebook, twitter (including periscope), Instagram (live broadcast), YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn would need to think twice. Each of these social media tools have different audiences that must be satisfied on every click of a button failure to which, attention and follower-ship is easily lost. Facebook recently announced that the future of social media is in video posts, live broadcasts and ads. That explains the plan to increase investment in its capacity for video which is giving YouTube a run for its money. Facebook being the most used social media platform has to invest more in curbing the spread of fake news and plagiarism altogether. Electronic media as users of tools like Facebook leverage on the trends like video increased capacity to deliver more. They will need to ensure they are as authentic and believable as possible to keep the very erratic followers from jumping ship to pledge allegiance to other news sources.

Social Media Influencers
Before the invention of blogs journalists whose stories never made it for publishing or broadcast, that was the end of it. Today, that story that never made it past the last editor now can be written or broadcast on a blog, attract readership and viewership, grow a single journalist a following online that a whole media house would envy. It is from these off the cuff “unofficial” posts that they will be looked at as voices of reason and not their officially published or broadcast work. They become social media influencers that brands would like to associate with. Instead of taking their advertising revenue to a broadcast house, they’d rather the social media influencer. Times have changed and this is the kind of world we live and work in today. Are media houses cognizant of these changes? I suppose so!

Women in the media
There are undoubtedly more women in the media doing extra ordinary work in Africa despite the fact that investigative journalistic work remains male dominated. The few female journalists doing investigative work have to constantly deal with questions like “why go to the war zone?” or “Don’t you care about your children enough?” or “Why don’t you just do news presentation and keep in simple?” and many short and long questions. It is these questions that cast a shadow on how much progress Africa in general has made towards gender equality in not just journalism but other professions, careers or occupations too.But that is a story for another post

The Future

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courtesy: Google

The future of media is in online video. Short, precise, news on the go. Is the media ready for this? I believe so yes. Will online video bring in more revenue for media houses? Definitely yes. Does this mean traditional media are going to be wiped out? I think as long as people still pride themselves in buying the next sleek television set and make room for a bookshelf in their living rooms, then there is a little love still hanging around in watching televised news on a bigger screen 📺 and a slot for an extra newspaper/magazine. So Traditional media is still here and will continue to be for some years ahead. Striking a balance between online and traditional will do the media good. Investing in online consumer trends will tell what the content demand is and guide supply and satisfaction. Employee turnover will be inevitable and therefore constant innovation and remodeling to newer technology trends will keep newsrooms well in the game.

Twitter: @JoyDoreenBiira

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One thought on “Press Freedom, Social Media, Fake News and other short stories in between

  1. The future is bright for smaller media operations and for multi-skilled journalists and talented freelancers. But, we learnt last week, a bigger concern than government censorship, is corporate pressure on large and small media entities owners to rein in unfavorable stories, with threats of advertising and partnership cutbacks.

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