• BBI happened and smartphones got us the drama way before primetime.
• No one has to wait for the journalist to gather, process and distribute news. Nowness is increasingly a function of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media.
The Internet Governance Forum (IGF 2019) in Berlin came at a time when conversations on digital rights, data security and sovereignty are taking centre stage.
These discussions have focussed on creating safe spaces and universal accessibility against the backdrop of the more than the timely theme of one world – one net – one vision.
The will to achieve one net for all might sound idealistic but there are indications IGF and the UN have what it takes to deliver a fete that would certainly need support from powerful governments at the very top policy levels. Scepticism abound given what happened to McBride’s One World Many Voices of 1980.
For obvious reasons, my interest has been drawn to journalism and media issues, especially the dynamic coalition sessions focused on the sustainability of journalism and news media and inclusion and growth of local media.
While the jury is still out on whether we are all journalists and news creators in the current dispensation, IGF 2019 has broadly situated the argument of digital media as inherently democratising and all-inclusive within a wider context.
Empirical evidence suggests that the legacy media is still central. Whereas the digital media has this unique capability to bring citizen journalists into the public sphere as creators of information, the flipside is the stark reality that sharing information on the digital platform does not necessarily guarantee access to audience.
Moreover, citizen journalists lack the training, fact-checking, editorial review and motives of traditional journalists and even though they may be contributing voluminous User Generated Content, a lot of these UGC still depend on legacy media for them to elicit democratising public conversations.
A keynote address by Hossein Derakhsham on the sustainability of journalism and news media in the not so free market raised fundamental questions with novel possibilities for innovative pathways.
The Iranian, who was released from prison in 2014 after six years of his 20-year jail term for being the godfather of blogs in the Middle East, sees very serious threats to just one component of journalism.
Unfortunately, this component – news – has been, and is still, the mainstay of journalism. To him, mitigating the threats has very little to do with news quality, ethics in journalism or business models.
In his thesis, he opines that the three key functions of news that have made it the mainstay of journalism are drama, nowness and globality. These functions have cultural values and threats to these functions are essentially threats to the cultural values of news without which no one would want to pay for news.
News as drama brings to the audience experiences not only the thrill but also the challenge to reason and think about the world around them.
Today, news is losing this dramatic cultural value to video games, video on demand and other sources of dramatic entertainment that are unfortunately big on pictures, emotions and entertainment.
They, however, have very little room for typography, reason and critical exposition. The BBI release and launch did not come to us via news media organisations. No. We were treated to the events via direct videos from Bomas of Kenya, edited to suit certain political persuasions and intent on evoking emotions rather than reason.
The second cultural value that is almost annihilated by the current disruption is nowness or newness of news. Media houses are losing this at the distribution phase. The threat herein is smartphones and social media pages that have made it possible for newsworthy events to move directly from the event to the consumer.
BBI happened and smartphones got us the drama way before primetime. No one has to wait for the journalist to gather, process and distribute news. Nowness is increasingly a function of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media.
The nowness cultural value lost by journalism speaks broadly to the last cultural ritual that news is losing - globality. As a cultural ritual, citizens in different societies would get to understand global events through news and media houses were the predominant windows to the world. Not anymore.
During the launch, I was seated at Estrel Conference Hotel lobby in Berlin and followed the events through my WhatsApp and Twitter. My colleagues at work followed what was happening at IGF 2019 through my updates via nonnews media platforms. Technology such as Skype, WhatsApp, Zoom seem to give people a sense of globalism and this is a serious threat to the cultural value of news.
Derakhsham, who draws his thesis from experience and James Carey’s works, sees journalism as surviving these threats by redefining its focus and putting more emphasis on the other component of journalism – the long forms such as drama, theatre, dance, music, storytelling and broadly the effective journalism.
Therefore, whereas the control of the distribution of cultural values of news is lost, journalism needs to loop back to content creation and production and craft innovative ways of infusing facts, data and context to newsworthy events and tell them in long forms. This could be via podcasts, docudrama, radio drama, and stories based on facts with powerful expositions that would elicit reason and robust debate.
The short and traditional news stories will remain a mainstay of media organisations, but innovation paths need to focus more on the artistic forms of journalism that infuse drama, nowness and news as a globalised experienced in the longer, more innovative forms.