Future shock for media! Social Media overtaking fast

By S. Narendra*
(Former PIO and ex-adviser to Govt. of Karnataka)

Who’s there? I, so and so (with a given name), that’s how we identify ourselves all our life. .But in the next decade, the world’s virtual population will exceed the population of the Earth. People’s multiple virtual identities will overlap their physical identities, such as given names. At another level, where we get our information and what (information and news) sources we trust will have a profound impact on our future identities. What’s in store for news on Internet is known and the battles over information monetization strategies and content syndication will continue. But as entry barriers for new information and news providers and their aggregators get lower, how will it affect the media landscape?

It is clear that mainstream media, such as news channels, newspapers and news agencies, will always be a step behind in reporting news. The world’s breaking news will continually come from platforms like Twitter, and its competitors: open networks that facilitate information sharing instantly, widely and in accessible packages.

As more and more people use data enabled devices, who breaks the news is a matter of chance. Unknowingly, a civilian live tweeted the killing of Osama bin Laden from Abbotabad.

The lag time before the mainstream media can get the story will alter the nature of audiences and their loyalty, as they seek more immediate methods of information delivery. Every generation will be able to produce and consume more information than the previous generation. This will lead to splitting of loyalty between new platforms for breaking news and the established organisation for the rest of the story.

News organizations will remain an important and integral part of society but many outlets will not survive in their current form. The effect of having so many new actors involved in news reporting through a range of online platforms into the great, diffuse media system, is that major outlets will report less and validate more.

Reporting duties will become more widely distributed, while expanding the scope of coverage but probably reduce the quality on a net level. The role of mainstream media will primarily be one of a credibility filter. But competition for being first with breaking news is diluting the role of filters. So also the wide presence of hand held devices enables thousand of sources to contribute to the pile of breaking news. Here, particularly for the elite – validation and cogent analysis will be important. The strength of open, unregulated information sharing platforms is their responsiveness, not their insight or depth.

Mainstream media will have to find ways to integrate all of the new global voices they can reach, a challenging but necessary task. The business of Journalism will become less extractive and more collaborative. Of course, chances of errors may also rise.

Global connectivity will introduce entirely new contributors to the supply chain. One new subcategory to emerge will be a network of local technical encryption specialists who deal exclusively in encryption keys. They will provide the necessary confidentiality mechanism between parties. In the Middle East, several VPNs or virtual private networks have come up and accessed by locals and international news outlets. Stringers serve such networks.

As part of cost cutting, mainstream media reduced their staff for foreign news coverage and began to rely more on stringers. In New Delhi, for example, most foreign correspondents working for newspapers and other outlets are stringers, who are paid a retainer plus a payment on contribution basis. Another type of stringers had emerged in India during the height of militancy and violence in Punjab and J&K.Foreign agencies paid stringers for tipping them off about violence, including barbaric killings by militants in remote rural areas.

The Author: S Narendra

Sometimes even militants themselves had turned stringers to gain international coverage for their acts. Mostly they were using the then latest technology, STD. For increasing coverage of hinterland, AIR uses dozens of stringers.
In the same way, a new type of Stringers will emerge. The latter risk their lives and offer digital content and online sources of news. But media outlets will have to exercise greater caution and seek validation for their news from such sources.

When people find the mainstream media failing to cover conflicts or other such developments, celebrities or even ordinary people, may start their own online portals. Mainstream media will find such new serious competitors in the future. Many will still favour and support the established media outlets out of loyalty and trust in institutions and the serious work of journalism. There will always be demand for not so serious tabloid variety of content.

Just as they do today, with charities and business (even governments) ventures, celebrities will look to starting their own media outlets as a logical extension of their ‘brand’. Not only technology is enabling this but also it does not involve much investment. Loyalties are fickle when it comes to media. That trend will get exacerbated when the field is crowded. If errors in content occur, that will further erode the audience loyalty.

Expanded connectivity promises more than just challenges for media outlets. It offers new possibilities for the role of media particularly in countries where the media is not free. Connectivity helps upend control over media by corrupt regimes, especially where local encryption facilities crop up and NGOs become active. Assisted by NGOs outside the country, the local ones find their voices. This kind of disaggregated, mutually anonymous news gathering system would not be difficult to build. Two new trends are-“”safer reporting backed by encryptiop” and a wider readership,
international, due to gains in connectivity ‘ would challenge oppressive or corrupt regimes. Green activists (even non-five star ones) have used the new information platforms very effectively to network and challenge administrations and businesses that ignore environmental and health safety considerations). *(Based on New Digital Age by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen)

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About the author
S Narendra has been Information adviser to the PM, Principal Information Officer to Govt Of India and Government Spokesperson. Has worked in both public and private sectors in the fields of Advertising, PR, Journalism, Communication Research.
Now, heads own Communication Consultancy. Has been associated with Communication projects of UNICEF, UNAIDS, World Bank, Gates Foundation, UNFPA, EU etc.,

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