Including audience in conversation key in fourth industrial revolution

In Summary

• Credibility and fidelity to data and facts is the second lesson that can be learnt from the Latin America experience.

A vendor displays newspapers in a stand in Nairobi.
A vendor displays newspapers in a stand in Nairobi.
Image: FILE

The fourth industrial revolution has fundamentally enhanced media organizations’ engagement with the audience and while giving the news consumers more power in the consumption value chain. The revolution’s democratization of the public sphere is probably the biggest point of discussion today as the world over, the big four of big data, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and block chain continue to heighten the significant disruptions in news media and storytelling. Moreover, the internet itself is an additional platform through which the legacy media can reach more audiences and as critics would put it sell the audiences to the highest bidder.

Interestingly and contrary popular belief there is some school of thought that avers that the rise of a fifth estate and the fact that it is overpopulated by bloggers and citizen journalists is keeping the mainstream media in check. If it happens the independent digital journalist will report and if the legacy media misrepresents facts KOT and independent voices on the digital platform unleash what has been termed as the outrage machine. In fact, some have hailed the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution as not only the anchor of independent news media organizations, but also the public platform that brings the marginalised voices into public sphere through digitally powered techniques.

In Latin American countries,these independent news media organizations have pretentiously succeeded in engaging their publics in sufficient numbers to mitigate external interference from powerful forces including the government.

Three critical lessons can be borrowed from the experiences of independent digital journalists in Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.First,is the need for our independent digital journalists to redefine their roles and see themselves not as purveyors of information, but also as critical players whose role is to bring the public into conversations through digitally powered techniques. Suffice to say, the public can only join such conversations if there is something in it for them. The crux therefore is for our fifth estate to curve a credible niche for independent voices that can sustain significant numbers in robust and constructive public interests conversations.

Picture many voices with the stature,in numbers, of folks like Robert Alai and the Nyakundis of these world unleashing credible and well researched journalistic pieces like what Owaah and the Elephant churn out. This picture in a world where the growth of the internet has been touted to undermine the economic foundations of news media can be revolutionary.

You see relevant content on the digital platform has been found to attract loyal customers and with it the attendant pathways for monetization in a variety of self-sustaining revenue streams. With innovative models of investing in the content/audience nexus, the next generation of independent digital content producers should be well poised to change our society.

Credibility and fidelity to data and facts is the second lesson that can be learnt from the Latin America experience. Sembra Media, in a landmark study of independent media enterprises in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico found that citizens are increasingly turning to credible, well researched news stories based on facts and data; not ideological preferences and prejudices. These citizens are running away from the legacy media which they perceive to be struggling with credibility issues often occasioned by subversion from authorities and the elites.

A lot of independent journalists and fairly renowned bloggers in Kenya today have larger followings than many media outlets, but unfortunately they have tended to spread their selves thin by focusing on almost everything in the public domain, especially politics and current affairs. Often these journalists focus on superficial, sensationalised and intense minor political and personal norm violations for traction rather than public good. This has left our public sphere with very few credible and authoritative voices, and most of these voices are in the legacy media, yet research shows that the legacy media neglects well research stories, largely because of government threats and commercial interests. The the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) is a good illustration of the dearth of indepth in coverage of public interest issues. Whereas the public was treated to the soundbites, chest thumping and bravado by key leaders in the education sector,very little is outside there for you and I who want to understand the CBC. The problem here in is our proclivity to go for what we want at the expense of what we need and a media ecology that has refused to be innovative enough to make that which we need become more important, credible, consistent, reliable and attractive to a large enough audience for sustainability.

Audience centred content that is well researched and rooted in data and facts is sure to attract an elite audience and this takes us to the third lesson we can learn – investment in audience metrics. Measures such as engagement – the duration a visit lasts in the consumption of a digital media content; and loyalty - number of users who visit at least 10-15 times a month can be converted to commercial values for sustainability of credible and well research stories.

Through BAKE and other collegial organizations a lot can be borrowed from the Latin American experience to create a much more robust public sphere where ideas contend and power is held accountable without the fear of reprisal from the establishment. Will such robust coverage come without threats? No. Independent digital journalists who will dare to expand the public debate on critical issues will face challenges that come with covering stories that generate change, promote better laws, defend human rights, expose corruption, and fight abuses of power. But the safety valve for such journalists, will always be data and facts, not ideological preferences, prejudices, partisan interests, or mere negligence or superficiality. In a nutshell, if the advertising dollars are going to be lost to the non-news spaces on the digital platform, the need to make any available digital news platforms robust as a repository of public interest news information has to be heightened.