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There isn’t any question that social media have changed journalism for good, across the world and in Jamaica. The questions now, perhaps, are how extensive that change has been, and what the media landscape will look like in the future.

The creation of the Internet, the democratization of access to publication, the instant access it created for thousands of citizen journalists to reach an international audience, all laid the groundwork for permanent change.

Think of Jamaica just twenty years ago. In the days before the Internet, and in a restricted media landscape, newsrooms could take their time getting news to the public. Events that took place in the evening probably wouldn’t make it into print until two days later. After all, if it wasn’t in the Gleaner, or on JBC and RJR, there was no other way for the public to get their news. Those with access to shortwave radio could hear international news, but local news dissemination was dependent on the local media giants.

How times have changed! With scores of ordinary people likely to be live-tweeting from anywhere and everywhere, traditional media houses have to be racing to keep up.

Consider this statement by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Freidman:

“I covered the Republican convention, and I was impressed in watching my Times colleagues at how much their jobs have changed. Here’s what a reporter does in a typical day: report, file for the Web edition, file for The International Herald Tribune, tweet, update for the Web edition, report more, track other people’s tweets, do a Web-video spot and then write the story for the print paper. You want to be a Times reporter today? That’s your day. You have to work harder and smarter and develop new skills faster.”

Barbara Blake Hannah said on my Facebook page that:

“The day of traditional media is over, just like writing with pen and paper. Look at how the report of Alpanso Cunningham’s gold medal reached FB at least a day before newspapers and TV carried the story. The power wielded by the traditional media has now passed democratically into the hands of ‘the people.’

Before we rush to sound the death knell for traditional media, however, consider that firstly, much of the news coming from the Paralympics and the blow-by-blow descriptions of Buju Banton’s trial was reported by journalists

English: Mug shot of Buju Banton.
English: Mug shot of Buju Banton. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

working for traditional media houses using social media to get the news first to their online products, before sending it on to their print or broadcast editions.

In addition, many people do still recognize that traditional media regard themselves as having a responsibility to fact check stories, something often not done by tweeters and posters, so even people who get news from social media (and who doesn’t nowadays?) often still look to traditional media houses for verification.

The two most infamous examples of false reports which spread rapidly thanks (?) to social media were the repeated claims that Buju Banton had been freed, and that Kartel had escaped.

Allan Rickards expressed the desire for verification  in his FB post when he said that:

“It is not news for me until it is confirmed in the traditional media…far too often the so-called social media is a hotbed of rumour/propaganda.”

I suggest that what we are seeing is a convergence of the old and the new. Will newsprint and the traditional radio and TV newscasts become obsolete with the increasing production of news-on-demand? We may be heading there, but I don’t think it’s something we should dread. New technologies have always transformed the means of communication. From papyrus and the slate to the keyboard, from the fountain pen to the stylus, technological developments have improved the ability to communicate with the public.

Mark you, I am sure there were naysayers who hated the idea of printing presses which would produce thousands of books that anyone could read.

“What about the job security of the men who write the books by hand?” I can hear them asking. “This is going to lead to mass unemployment!”

Or when paper was developed, there was probably someone getting up in meetings and objecting on the basis that the rivers would become overrun with weeds if they weren’t being harvested to make papyrus.

Photo by nattavut at freedigitalphotos.net

This article in the Economist, looks at the evolution of the relationship between social and traditional media, from the days when a senor news executive felt able to make the derisive comment that a blogger was just someone “in his living room in his pyjamas writing what he thinks” to the present day when social media are seen as “a valuable adjunct to traditional media.”

The writer chronicles how the story about the death of Osama Bin Laden developed on Twitter for example, and how social media helped spread the massive story of the Arab spring.

“Thanks to the rise of social media, news is no longer gathered exclusively by reporters and turned into a story but emerges from an ecosystem in which journalists, sources, readers and viewers exchange information,” said the Economist.

Jamaican media houses have recognized the importance of not being left behind. The Press Association of Jamaica now has an award for on-line journalism, and newsrooms are trying to ensure that they break stories on social media, instead of playing catch-up to on-line-only outlets.

At this stage I have no idea what the future will look like. After all, I’m now in love with an E-reader which I never thought possible! See my post on my new-found love for E-readers here.

The Huffington Post has proven that online media products can be successful. The old models are doubtless being transformed as we speak, but I hardly think there will be an end to journalism or jobs for journalists. What those jobs look like has already changed significantly, and is likely to change still further. But then, as the New York Times’ Friedman says, “Any form of standing still is deadly.”

The Jamaica Broilers Fair Play Awards is being held Tuesday, September 11 and will highlight the importance of social media. Perhaps the featured speaker Saadiq Rodgers-King , a successful social media entrepreneur, will have some ideas about what the future will look like. If he does, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Disclosure – I’ll be participating in the function.

 

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