Wednesday, 4 July 2012

(5): Social media and the future of international broadcasting

There is no doubt that social media like Facebook, twitter and YouTube have changed the way we consume the news today. The social media has completely revolutionised the way international journalism is practiced. During the Social Media Summit organised by the BBC College of Journalism in May 2011, the managing editor of the Washington Post made an interesting comment at the venue in which he said why should I employ a journalist who doesn’t have a Facebook or twitter account?
That statement became one of the most twitted throughout the summit. But there is something very interesting about the social media which can help us answer some critical questions about the future of international broadcasting. Already there is a debate in news rooms on whether there will be the need for traditional media like radio and television in the future.
To answer the question we only need to look behind the history of technological innovation.
If we look at the history of printing press in the 1400s, the creation of telegraph in the 1700s, the telephone in the 1800s, radio and television between the late 1800s to early 1900s, they also coincided with certain historical and economic events like the industrial revolution, colonialism and World War. Yet during the invention of each of these technological tools people at the time thought that such invention might be the most important technological creation of their time, and is potentially irreplaceable.
When international satellite broadcasting started in the 1980s there was the fear it could signify the end of print journalism. Of course satellite has changed the way print journalism is practiced. Newspapers started paying more attention to celebrity news, using DVDs in specific print outs in order to increase their sales. Yet thirty years after the introduction of satellite broadcasting newspapers are still in the business, although operating in a much tougher environment.
Looking at social media like twitter and facebook, this is another technological innovation which like radio and television is coinciding with other historical events at the turn of the century. The most important being the Arab awakening which saw the fall of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Its impact is also being felt in Wall Street in the US, in the streets of Europe as well as Africa. The impact of this historical change has also altered the global political landscape with people on Facebook today being twice the number of the population of the United States.
This is what I call a nation with an electronic capital. It comprises of youths who are bounded by the keyboard of their computers and the buttons on their mobiles phones.
They are deterritorialised, and these technological tools are their immediate cousins; so the challenge of international broadcasting is to mould it to the taste of this generation. In the next couple of years these young people will become decision makers, but most importantly the producers and the consumers of news. I do not believe that new media or social media will completely replace television and radio journalism as we know it.
What will certainly happen is that it will change the way the news is mediated. Already we have started seeing television stations in the United States like PJTV with studio and sophisticated broadcasting equipments, news gathering teams, but transmit programmes via the internet only.
More and more broadcasters like that will join the trail; they do not have to worry about some of the challenges that the mainstream media have to consider in this age. But there is something interesting that television provides especially among middles class. It provides a connection with the family, and this is something that the social media does not easily provide within the home.
The social media is more of a mobile companion that fills in the gap of idleness whether at home, school or workplace. For many in developing countries, radio provides the same social function in the rural areas.
It will take time before social media completely wipes out the efficacy of radio listenership especially where it serves as the only means of getting information. One thing is certain, the age in which the mainstream media will monopolise the news is over, but the age of providing quality journalism through professionalism is not over.
But that is arguably the only ace in the hands of the mainstream broadcasters, and one day citizen journalists will work hard to bridge that gap, after all we are in the century of social media.
An earlier version of this piece was written as part of the 80 years celebration of the BBC World Service.

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