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Understanding and appreciating new digital media communication
Whether we talk about Digital, multimedia, online or new media journalism and communication, it is clear to many we are talking about the new digital media tools and how they aid journalism and communication. That there are a number of new media tools and platforms to master and utilize to better our journalism and communication is no longer a secret. But to really make the best of the new media tools, we need to change the way we think about journalism and or communication.
Yes. It’s all in your head.
The ability to “think online”, “mobile” or “digital” is the most important skill a journalist or communicator can acquire or develop today. Yes, you need the practical skills to produce and distribute digital content, make or customize platforms but it is the mindset that will imagine the digital possibilities of a story, project or communication platform. If you can’t develop a digital media mindset, all the digital media training in the world won’t help.
As early as 2006, the independent study by C. Max Magee, as part of his master’s degree program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, found that changing the way we think as journalists and communicators is the most important skill in new media success. The study surveyed 239 professionals working in online journalism and 199 people who are observing its evolution. Its goal: To define the skills and intangible characteristics that are most important in online newsrooms.
The problem is that everybody wants progress but nobody wants change. – Ulrik Haagerup, editor in chief of Nordjyske Media, Aalborg, Denmark
Many journalists producing digital content at that time agreed that what makes online journalism different isn’t so much the technical skills as it is a way of thinking.
A willingness to learn new things, to multitask and to work in teams were especially appreciated, in addition to other skills that most working journalists already know such as attention to detail and ability to work under time pressure.
“The crucial obstacle is the mental one we impose on ourselves in sticking with the belief that our job is to print ink on paper and deliver it with the help of small boys in shorts before 7 a.m.,” Ulrik Haagerup wrote in the December 2006 Nieman Reports. “This change can be a hard one for journalists to make; it means realizing our task is to serve people in our community by telling them useful and entertaining stories through whatever technology they want to use.” It is important to appreciate that people today use different media to access news and information and it is our responsibility (if we want to continue to be relevant) to provide the news on all the possible effective media, not just thinking newspaper, radio or television.
Journalists are smart people. Many have already learned how the Web and digital technologies allow for nonlinear storytelling and are producing text, video and audio stories online. They have learned the power of database reporting and new styles of writing and package content for the web and other digital tools. They understand—even appreciate—a new world order where journalists and editors are no longer preaching to the readers/users/viewers. No longer a lecture, news is, indeed, a conversation, vibrant in its many facets, directions, layers and continuum.
As many like me have learned, the digital way isn’t for propeller heads only. Anyone who can use the Web and e-mail has the skills necessary to begin blogging or building multimedia projects. All you need is to open your mind to the possibilities and dip your toe into the water.
The New Media thinking requires that journalists look at themselves as communicators who have to share the message(s) they want to reach out to people in any medium or a collection or media that will best serve the audience member(s) as opposed to thinking of themselves as newspaper, radio, tv or internet journalists. We should be journalists and communicators willing to pass on the message in as more interactive and engaging media possible.
The message is best delivered considering the advantages and limitations of different media
If we think back at our communication basics, we shall remember that the message is key to the communication process. So if we are to deliver the message or messages effectively, get and respond to feedback, digital tools present the best opportunity to reach out to more people, to targeted people and to especially get and respond to their timely and less costly feedback.
We know from the history of the media, newspapers, radio and tv have come at different times with each presenting life changing opportunities and challenges to preceding ones because of the advantages the different media presented in enabling better communication. The print media enjoyed its share of influence for a long time as the only available media of mass communication till the onset of radio, whose immediate delivery of message to many people at the same time and in (more personal) voice format shook up the print media industry. But the popularity of radio did not kill newspapers as some had anticipated.
When television appeared with its ability to communicate sound and motion pictures to a given connected audience at the same time, many people thought radio (appealing only to sound senses) and newspapers (only appealing to still visual- not motion) would collapse. But the huge expense of TV sets, the heavy studio and broadcasting equipment required to transmit tv signals has kept (the complete media) inaccessible to many people, leave alone its strong attentions demands on time of viewers. TV has however grown to become the most popular medium at least for editorial (journalistic work) in many countries.
It is about choosing the best media to deliver particular content
With the onset of internet where a particular message can be (sent and accessed) across any internet connected digital device, a more effective media was born, with so many commentators signaling the end of the traditional media (newspapers, radio and television). In some countries, the audience share of traditional media has tremendously reduced due to the pressure of internet as a media of communication but radio, television and newspapers remain strong media in almost every country of the globe, more than 20years after most countries started internet based communications. The limited access to computers and internet, the cost of access, the presence of many tools and platforms on the internet and limited literacy especially in our African societies has continued to slow the growth of internet as an effective media of communication.
In the new media thinking we appreciate the importance and significant advantages and limitations of all media and seek to utilize either media to best disseminate our message(s) and ensure more participatory media (getting feedback and responding accordingly). But the digital tools we refer to as new media present many more advantages for today’s communicator and users accessing news and information.
New Media is multimedia and better
It should be noted that the internet (and other digital devices) present us the only media that can effectively combine audio (what is distributed on broadcast radio), video (which distributed on television) text and photos (distributed on print), as well as other graphics and interactive interfaces like maps, timelines and visualization. This multimedia nature of the internet has no doubt made it a more effective media to use for communication. In understanding the power of the internet and other digital devices, we just need to ask yourself, if a good photo (still picture) says 1000 words, how many does a good video say (which combines picture with motion and sound)? How many ‘words’ then does the internet or other digital devices say because it combines video, audio, photos, graphics and other visualizations?
New Media distributed in many ways to reach people
One key difference of digital or new media is the multitudes of platforms and on gadgets they utilize to distribute and access content. From computers, mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, DVDs, CDs, flash disks to email, social networks and websites, we see a range of interactive means through which content can be distributed unlike radio set for radio, television set for tv, and printed paper for print. In other words, radio didn’t not technically help expand newspaper content reach, TV didn’t expand radio or newspaper content reach but digital devises especially those powered by the internet are not only combining these traditional media into one media, but can enhance their every specific content to reach particular audiences either directly (website readers, online audio and video channel consumers), or more appropriately accessing content on demand through podcasts, video casts and text articles as searched and followed up at time of need. This is because new media gives content a ‘continuous’ life span that traditional media doesn’t. Of course good content targeting and the user’s ability to search is key to good results.
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New Media’s on demand access is a winner
This concept of on-demand access of journalistic or other content is at the center of the new media revolution that journalists and media practitioners need to understand. People now have different digital tools enabling them to access content when and how they wish and it is our duty to prepare our content to be accessed when and how users want as opposed to the linear formats of traditional media. Just because you wrote that good piece on choosing the best university for example in the newspaper today does mean every potential user of that information wants it on that day of publication or will access the publication for keeps to utilize the information when they want to. You playing that good music or that popular soap at the time you chose does not mean all who want it are tuned it at that time. It is vital to save radio and television programs for later access on demand on the digital tools while print articles can be optimized for the web and search for ease of access later.
This same concept applies to advertising, the hitherto major source of revenue for most media houses and signals the need to re-adjust both adverting and content formats, as well as information compilation (to communicate the selling messages) for on demand access. For example it is not enough to mind about MTN paying you to advertise in your newspaper, on radio or tv about their new call rate offers or speed internet and how it can be accessed, without you minding how real users (members of your audience) can access the rates or the codes to press for what rate when they want to use a particular MTN service (and not that time you display the message because there is no guarantee that they wanted to utilize that kind of information at that very time). Such forward thinking will give more value to the advertiser and keep you relevant given the many options available to the advertiser to reach out to audience members by-passing the traditional media (through own digital means or other channels like social media).
In New Media, we appreciate there are many players also communicating
We also need to appreciate the fact that when talking of digital media, there are many other players, small and big all communicating and seeking to inform, engage and influence the same people that journalists and media houses target. This means that The New Vision for example looks at competition beyond Daily Monitor, or other traditional media channels like radio or TV but the many websites that are offering news and information, social media sites that are breaking most of the stories (in addition the wide platform for community members to communicate and voice their concerns to whoever cares to listen without seeking approval), the sms media services and other digital entrepreneurs offering videos, photo prints and other particular content (including what is sourced from traditional media) or even digital platforms being utilized by clients we target (especially advertisers) like Aitel’s ability to advertise a key message after every call or balance inquiry or indeed their social network (include mobile) activities directly engaging audience members.
There is a countering argument I hear often about the few people in Uganda and indeed other African countries able to access internet and thus warrant serious digital media (online) engagement. With the Uganda Communications Commission study (2017) showing about 17million Ugandans (44.6%) access internet, some people are still hesitant to treat internet as a serious media to engage with. But any basic (media neutral) research amongst your audience members about how they receive their news and information will show you many are increasing getting their news and information needs answered on internet (computers and mobile).
Many Ugandans today access internet not on computers but on their mobile phones (and related gadgets). So it is not right to measure internet penetration by figures of those who access internet on computers and mostly internet cafes (the basis for the UCC study). With more than 16million mobile subscriptions by 2017, Uganda has many users with phones that can access the internet and the evidence is right with you and your friend or neighbour right now (64% of Ugandan’s are now using mobile phones, 2017). But how we change our mindset to see these mobile phones as great media to package our content for, and mobile phone owners to access content on mobile platforms will determine success on this front. Many researches have shown that most Africans are a talking lot as opposed to lovers of reading, which is why we continue to advocate for digitalized content accessible by users in audio form at will.
New Media enables better Interactivity and sharing
We may appreciate that the era of the passive audience waiting to hear (from us) is gone or going. In new media we have to look at producing content for people who want to interact with it and share it on different digital gadgets. People want to partake in the communication process (remember importance of two way communication theory). The fact that the geographical range of digital media is wider (connected phones and computers are global reaching) also means we don’t take for granted how far or who will access (and utilize our content) and for what purposes. The contexts and supporting practices like linking must support this global outlook.
Even when looking at usual content formats like direct access and breaking news, digital tools offer the best and quickest access. In addition to ensuring your live feed or communication is accessible on the internet and or mobile devices, you can tap more (and refine) input from the audience members who are armed with different digital devices. And yes encourage them to share your content (remember two step flow theory of communication) so your content and message can reach far and wide.
While it is true that New media tools are bringing a lot of disruptions to traditional media, it is better to embrace new media tools and take them as an opportunity to serve people better in this era of the semantic web-where people’s interests rule. All you need is a new media mindset of a communicator who sees the different media alternatives available to reach out to people and that that people have a choice of what and when to consume, as well as the power to distribute (share or enhance) your own and their content. If we are agree with the theory of the Media is the message, there should be no doubt that digital media are the best means to reach out with messages. It might not be easy to jump in, learn and utilize the digital tools and platforms and sincerely there is a lot to learn. But it is possible and it is the smart way to communicate to and engage today’s audience members, and ensure your own survival as a journalist or media house.
What does this mean to you as a journalist?
Like in developed countries, soon digital skills will begin to identify job candidates for newspaper, television and radio job openings, when the lack of digital skills will identify those who are expendable. We haven’t witnesses the newsroom jobs cuts reported in the USA and some European counties, but the media houses and general media economy in Africa is more susceptible to reduced revenues and improvements will most certainly be found in a better new media (digital content) strategy.
The two most popular excuses working journalists use when trying to avoid this new era are: “I don’t know how” and “I don’t have time.” Now that you know “how” (we at Ultimate Multimedia Training Services are always eager to guide you) you need to address “when.”
Here is one suggestion: Start today. Not tomorrow or next week or the next time you see a job advert asking for digital journalism skills. Find the digital skill that interests you the most and start immersing yourself. Whether that is blogging or podcasting or producing video stories, live coverage, timelines, maps, data visualization etc, make a plan to sample content in that platform/medium and start doing it yourself, if only for practice. There are many affordable tools (cameras, phones, recorders, free websites and blog services) and platforms for you to use. Give yourself a deadline and if you work for a ‘big’ media house in need of such skills, tell your manager. It will most likely become part of your job and you will find a way to make time for it, while enjoying more job security at your work place and career prospects.
Remember, many of working journalists didn’t think they had time for e-mail or social media when the two technologies came along. Some even protested the publication of reporters’ and editors’ e-mail addresses in or engaging with audience members in social media, in fear that they would spend all their time answering inane reader requests. Today there is no way you could take away e-mail (people at Daily Monitor knows this well as reporters by-lines are accompanied by their email addresses) while almost every media house worth its name now has facebook and twitter accounts. All the digital skills you need to produce and distribute digital content are no different. Practice, learn and more practice.
Fostering community and seeing it build on your content offer
You could even start by reading the user-generated content on your (organizational) web site (if applicable) and others. Peruse the comments posted on the blogs on your site and others. If readers comment on your stories, pick your opportunities to chime in and contribute to the discussion. Even something as simple as, “Great comments, everyone. Keep them coming,” will get you involved in this new paradigm of news consumption, which is more like a conversation and less like a lecture. If your organisation doesn’t have a website or blog, ask to create one.
If your site doesn’t have blogs or allow comments on stories, ask why not. Start the conversation. It will force you to think differently and that simple exercise will help you open up to the possibilities of digital journalism and information delivery.
If that still sounds complicated, as a reporter or editor, consider learning simple things to utilize the internet for better reporting and research. Learn the basic tips for online search. Start storing your data digitally. Even if it’s just your list of contacts, learn to manage your data electronically to maximize its usefulness in the future. And open up your reporting to harness the power of the public through crowdsourcing, dedicated blogs, aggregation or curating. For once we can really make the sky the limit.
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Resources consulted and some examples to hammer the point home
Dan Gilmor (2004) We the media: Grassroots Journalism by the people, for the people…O’Reilly Media.
Jeff Howe, “The Rise of Crowdsourcing,” Wired Magazine, June 2006.
Mark Briggs, Journalism Next: A practical guide to digital reporting and publishing (2010), QC Press, Washington*
Mark Briggs (2007) Journalism 2.0: How to Survive and Thrive. A Digital Literacy Guide for the Information age, J-Lab Institute of Interactive Journalism & Knight News Citizen Network
Mark S. Luckie (2010) The Digital Journalist’s Handbook 1 st Ed ( a very practical guide for digital journalism)
Philip Meyer, The New Precision Journalism, 2nd Ed., Indiana University Press, 1991. Philip Meyer is the Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This is an updated version of Meyer’s 1973 book, “Precision Journalism: A Reporter’s Introduction to Social Science Methods.”
Stephen Quinn (2009), Convergent Journalism: The fundamentals of multimedia reporting
Poynter developed this new media timeline to showcase the developments in new media from 1969-2010 and it is still recording new developments.
See this insightful expose by Wired magazine on how the newspaper industry must change to survive in the age of new media.
Here real multimedia stories and projects. The New York Times is globally famed for producing leading amazing multimedia projects and is ahead of the game when it comes to interactivity and data visualizations.
About New Media Democracy and New Era Journalism – Gerald Businge
“…and hope journalists and media houses can understand the importance of involving more people in the news and information cycle, which to me is no longer an issue of advocacy but a market issue as people will easily find alternatives to air their views, to get the news and information they want, at the time they want it, and how they want it. So we better start getting ready….”
Whats wrong with almost every old media inspired new media start up – Christopher Mims
He argues that tired theories about what it takes to succeed on the web neglect the fact that the web is no longer where media innovation happens.
“… I received a call from a consulting company yesterday that was to ask me some questions about digital media and repurposing content. As I usually do, I cautioned about the recurring mistake publishers make: thinking that an existing product that works well in print can be converted with little change to a digital product and have the same level of success – different platforms generally require different products…”
African media houses should think seriously of online and mobile – Gerald Businge 2010
Sometimes we wrongly think that people like newspapers, radio or TV. What people want is news, information and entertainment. The media (channel ) that will deliver it to them at the cheapest cost, highest speed, less inconvenience, AND allows them to partake in shaping the information and news will be the winning media of tomorrow. As technologies to deliver news and information to people’s mobile phones become more available, with online and mobile phone interfaces providing news and information in both audio, video and text already a reality for many people, the traditional media is becoming less and less used, and is losing out.
The quick shift- old to new media https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1QOV615KvU
Towards better, smarter online content.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2QoKrH77cU
There is intense pressure for journalists and editors to produce lots and lots of content these days. But, frankly, much of that content is dull and terrible. There’s a lot of noise, and not much meaning. Is it possible to “feed the beast” while still advancing the conversation? In this panel, we’ll discuss how journalists and newsrooms can encourage meaningful, innovative work in the Internet age.
Organised in association with Columbia Journalism Review online and formicablu.it
Panelists: Adam Baker, founder Blottr; Justin Peters, editor Columbia J. Review online; Francesco Piccinini, editor Fanpage; Aron Pilhofer, ed. interactive news New York Times; Doree Shafrir, executive editor Buzzfeed
Media professor/expert Paul Levinson on new media influence
New York times…all the news that is fit to print or all the news that a small group of people deems fit to print
The future of New Media http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW2TonRvt94
Anil Dash says the great challenge for new media involves balancing competing demands for accessibility and immediacy…its no longer about the technology but the culture –that will build on the advantages of new media e.g. inclusion, ….its about access not invention…making the tools easy to access and use than inventing the best.