We are living in an exciting time. Under a crowded sky of satellites and crisscrossing signals. We are thriving in a flat world, with knocked down cultures and boundaries. We are communicating in a porous global society of 24x7 news and redundant news breaks.
There are no skeletons in the cupboard. No sighs are private and safe between bed sheets.
Communication technologies have revolutionised and redefined our life and the way we live it. They have programme-written our habits and behavioural patterns.
They have dramatically changed the way we do business, and opened new markets and business opportunities for us to buy and sell—be it products, art, ideas or commodities.
During the past decade and half nothing has been changed and reshaped more decisively than the way we communicate.
We grew up believing ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, but now we realise, with shudders down our spine, that a mobile phone can win and destroy hearts and battles more than the pen or the sword could ever do.
People of my generation—those who have just begun life at 40!—might agree with me that if we had mobile phones then we would have married our college sweethearts. In those days, we could hardly get past the girl’s dad who lived around the land-phone like a watchdog or like ‘Cardus at cover’. A nosing mother who hardly sent her daughter out alone—even to fetch newspaper from the gate—was harder to bypass than a metal detector.
The boys who are born with email accounts and grow up fiddling with SIM cards may not understand the vagaries of a lover lived just a generation or two before.
Let’s get back to journalism. It’s been some years now since we stopped following news. News is now following us—in the car, garage, on the road, in the bed and even in the loo!
The way news is presented has dramatically changed. With the advent of New Media and Social Media platforms, media companies have begun to look like software firms with a clutch of Apps. Magazine, newspapers, books, music, TV shows, etc., are now being ‘Appified’.
Appification is poised to be the major factor reshaping media, especially news media. We are likely to see a direct influence through a proliferation of specialised media apps, and also indirectly through changes in consumer attitudes, expectations, and purchasing habits.
Appification throws open to newspapers a powerful marketing and pricing strategy called ‘versioning’, which is selling of content in different packages using apps. The apps will help a reader to pick and choose a news package according to his or her budget or preference.
Like news presentation, news gathering has also evolved quite breathtakingly. Now with a decent mobile phone you can shoot and upload in no time. With New Media technologies and the Social Media platforms, media has been democratised. The ivory pillars of the Fourth Estate have been knocked down. The privileged breed of journalists now has to rub shoulders with the milkman and the paperboy.
Live television broadcast has earlier forced a changed in the narrative style of a print journalist. Print newspapers can hardly break news now. Newsroom think-tanks are thinking up strategies to keep the morning dailies relevant.
Now with the new gadgets and devices that can beat even television broadcast in terms of exclusivity and speed, the Citizen Journalist has arrived. And, with him a new culture of news media.
Over two decades ago when George Holliday and his wife shot from their LA home balcony a scuffle on the street with their cumbersome handycam, even they didn’t realise that their act would one day be marked as the pioneer act of ‘citizen journalism’.
Social Media platforms have taken away the privilege of the Old Media, and have given the citizen to be his/her own publisher. It has flattened the world but it has posed great challenges as well. CJ is good, and that is the future. But there is a flip side.
When the man on the street becomes a publisher, many things are at risk. He or she has to exercise ‘media freedom’ with restraint and a degree of responsibility. Just because he has the technology, he can’t publish without thinking twice. Like having nuke capability, it in fact demands you to be more responsible.
I will give an example. The other day some students of a private college found their principal dozing in his room. They clicked their phones and published the photo on Facebook. I won’t buy this. Yes, sleeping on duty is wrong but a student should not photograph it and make it public. It amounts to character assassination.
However, Social Media’s essential role in serious journalism can no longer be ignored. In the coming years, Social Media journalism will finally grow up. Journalism will be more collaborative, thanks to the fundamental social nature of the Internet.
The new real-time news cycle will be different from what we have seen all these years.
A ‘story’ will not be a reporter’s exclusive product. It may be shaped by the people who are involved in that story, curated by editor from different sources and circulated back to the readers/audience. News will no more be ‘for the people’ but ‘by the people’.
CJ and New Media technologies have watered down the relevance of the ‘journalist’ but not journalism. It will continue to play the role of a whistleblower.
Now the question of freedom. Earlier, media freedom was the prerogative of the management. Now since the management has been knocked away, the participants in a story must display a sense of maturity, transparency and responsibility.
Yes, we are living in an exciting world, and will see a more exciting tomorrow but all these gadgets, technologies and possibilities must make us more mature and responsible because freedom is either relative or a myth!
(Sabin Iqbal is editor of Vibrant Keralam)
--Published in Art&Deal Magazine