The Changing Face of Journalism

Published on 7th August 2018

Eight years ago, working with the Nation Media Group in Kampala, Uganda, a gentleman flew in for a series of meetings and he made an appointment to see me. We met one humid afternoon at the Kampala Serena Conference Centre, and he wanted to discuss on the state of the media industry and the challenges we face from a ‘knowledge, skills sets’ point of view.

He was undertaking a foundational research for the setting up of a University and that University was The Aga Khan University.  It is always a beautiful thing when one sees a Vision, well conceptualized and thought out, unfold and become a reality. We needed a strong Graduate Media training institution for East Africa back then, and we need it ever more, today.

The Media Industry in East Africa and indeed across the entire world has undergone and continues to undergo very rapid transformation.  The past 15 years have been a roller coaster of change.  Immense changes and challenges and new exciting opportunities – all deriving from the dramatic impact of the rapidly changing technologies shaping our lives, the Internet and the mobile phone.

We’ve come a long way. From the first newspaper published in East Africa in 1902; The invention of Radio in the 1910s – 1920.  The first Radio Broadcast targeting Africans in Kenya in 1953. Television, invented in 1927 and the first TV landing in Kenya in 1962. We’ve come a long way.

The Newspaper which is a significantly much older platform, the Radio and TV, have close to a century, held a near total monopoly over the dissemination of news and current affairs to the masses.  Consumer behaviour was for a long time, significantly shaped or dictated by the availability times of the newspaper, radio and TV.

For many people especially in the West, breakfast time was Newspaper time.  Reading the days’ morning paper as you took your coffee. In Kenya and the rest of East Africa, the newspaper was also the first point of contact with the news. For a majority of the working class, reading a newspaper was the first thing they did at the office … well before anything else! Radio defined the waking and working day of the majority of the rural folk as well as many urbanites.  Radio was a constant companion – advantageous because you could carry it along with you wherever you went. TV was a status symbol back then.  For the lucky few who had attained a certain level of accomplishment. On the whole, Information and entertainment for the masses was limited to these three main platforms.

For Media Companies, investment in newspaper publishing and Broadcasting was a very profitable venture – And one with high barriers to entry due to the significant levels of investments required, the heavy regulation and a scarcity of resources required such as broadcast frequencies. It was a very attractive business model.

Collect and curate news and current affairs, entertainment, educational content, and serve it to the public at appointed times. Aggregate audience around this content and derive revenues through newspaper copy sales via vending or subscriptions and through Advertising services.

 

Today, technology has changed and continues to change humanity.  Everything has been thrown up in the air and our industry is dramatically transforming. Long existing consumer behaviours, social interactions, business processes are being re-defined, daily. This impact of technology spans virtually all sectors and industries, not just the Media Industry.  You have new terminologies such as Fintech, Edutech, Insuretech, Meditech  et al!

The impact of Technology on the Media Industry over the past 15 years has been monumental.  We’ve experienced  the emergence of digital news media, digital platform power – new and ferocious competitors riding significantly new and differentiated business models. We’ve experienced  Google and Facebook power; changing business models for traditional media; job losses and newspaper shut downs; democratization of the news delivery process; low barriers to entry – bloggers, vloggers commanding huge audiences; and  fake news phenomenon aka lies and propaganda.

Today, Consumers have an endless choice of information. They are inundated with news and information. Myriad new sources. Monopoly of information has collapsed. Sectoral or industry silos continue to collapse. Non-traditional media players have become significant purveyors of Media – almost overnight. Consumer behaviours have changed – people want news on the go – now-when and how they want it on demand. Audiences are now very engaged in the news process, and they have their own voice. Everybody now has a great chance of being heard and telling the news from their own perspective.

So what is the future for media?

Current Media Platforms will continue to exist – but significantly transformed by digital technologies and the changing consumption behaviours. They will evolve to meet changing technology and needs of the consumer. The Business models are likely to be more anchored on direct relationships with the consumers.  B2C.  Even though advertising will continue to play a role.

The Imperatives for Media going forward

Reskilling and re-tooling editorial teams for success in the digital-age. There is need to urgently equip editorial teams with the relevant digital skills and knowledge. As Journalism interfaces with digital technology, content production and new consumer behaviour, new approaches for journalism are needed.

How do you tell news stories to millenials? How do you approach content consumption on digital media? What treatments do you apply to the story?  How long or short should the content be?  Long form or short form? How best to convey the story and its context? There is need for customized formats for different audiences on different platforms. There is need for    digital –first approach: the need to respond and deliver the news fast otherwise risk being irrelevant. The need for well-researched, high quality content.

As Fake news becomes a reality, there’s an ongoing flight to quality. Many consumers are fleeing to quality, trust-worthy news sources.  Journalism will need to go back to the basics e.g the 2-3 independent news sources rule. Journalism will need to be more valuable …more relevant …across audiences, platforms and devices.

Media companies and journalists must keep tabs on the consumers and the changing consumer behaviour. News today and into the future has to be presented or availed, WHEN the consumer wants it! It has to be designed to how people live their lives. Consumer Engagement is now an imperative. Consumers expect to be engaged and to participate.

There is need to derive data driven insights and knowledge to understand the consumers and make better decisions. This is critical for success.

The Media Business Model will have to change for long-term sustainability. A strong skew towards a B2C model– direct monetization linkage with the end-consumer is expected. This will however still need to be complimented by Ad-based revenues.

Al though digital advertising has exploded and is now significantly higher than newspaper advertising in the US, much of this advertising is not going to traditional publishers! Over 75% of digital advertising revenues globally going to just a few the big digital players! There is need to move quickly to adapt to the new digital environment. There is need to keep experimenting, learning the lessons and moving on.

The common thread through all of the history and the present transformative changes going on in the Media Industry is that; people want to be informed. They want to know what is happening around them and how it impacts or changes their lives. They want to be inspired.  They want to be entertained. They want functional information – information that helps them positively change their lives. That educates, expands their knowledge and opportunities. They want information that spotlights those in power and that ensures accountability and protection of their social-political systems. They want information they can rely on and trust. They want quality journalism that recognizes and respects their worth and interests. Journalism that helps them know and prioritise (Agenda setting) key issues.

Any Media Company or Journalist that best meets these needs in the way that consumers wants them met, will thrive. The highest quality of journalism is Journalism that helps make our world a much better place, a much safer, much happier place. 

By Mr. Joe Munene,

Managing Director, Broadcast Division, Standard Media Group Plc.  


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