It’s been less than 20 years since the first social network Classmates.com appeared on Internet. Yet the worldwide boom of social media is palpable as never before. At the beginning of the 21st century, the mankind entered the era of transformation, new stage of development of social affairs based on mutual relationships between distinct sectors of society in virtually every country. The Internet which has become part of our daily lives has turned every member of the society into both the user and the carrier of information.
The Good and the Bad News
They often say that “the good news is that you can find anything on Internet. Bad news is that there everything is on Internet”. Positive and negative traits of Internet aside, we have to accept the fact that it truly revolutionized the media landscape. Increasing numbers of Internet users is due to the growing user base of social networks. According to 2014 stats, the number of Facebook users have reached 1.16 billion while YouTube comes in second with a total of 1 billion users. As many of my colleagues suggest, social media is an important source of getting big amounts of information and a medium for obtaining latest news. At the same time though, we can’t but endorse the opinion that sources using social media that are far from the journalistic norms, may report subjective, inaccurate and biased information, misinterpret facts and developments. These sources are not in compliance with requirements of modern journalism such as accuracy and objectivity. Besides, users online do not bear social and at times, legal responsibility like traditional journalists do, which is why they will have a different approach to any given issue.
Notwithstanding these and other shortcomings, it is impossible to prevent the dissemination of information via social networks. Unlike traditional journalism which is faced with the decrease or lack of funds, social networks have transformed into the information-transmitting machines. According to my observations at conferences and meetings I had attended, I can say that majority of professional journalists favor the use of social media as a journalism development medium.
Yet, we have to take into consideration one more variable. Not everywhere the process of development of social media is going on at the same pace. In countries which are in different stages of development, these social trends will vary. In general, though, trends of creating information beyond traditional media establishments of the society and its integration into the process of consumption are more or less similar.
Interaction defeats competition
How will competition between journalism graduates, and other representatives and parties of wider information society, including the Internet, end in the traditional media sector in light of the growing influence of social journalism on our society?
This is the most debated issue nowadays. Sometimes, opinions coincide; sometimes they differ. There are instances when parties consider each other rivals. There were even those who recently called this professional stand-off a “cold war”. Is the situation really putting journalism on the brink of war? Is a conflict between the two poles so antagonistic? I would think not. Of course, there are always elements of jealousy, but a more vivid interaction rather than an unhealthy competition is being witnessed.
The issue naturally concerns, primarily, the traditional media. Representatives of this sector consider the growing audience of social networks; social media boom an existential threat to TV prime time ratings and printed press. Despite this phenomenon, the same people in the traditional media can’t really perform to their full professional extent without IPads, smart phones and social networks. And this is exactly why the majority of recently held trainings in media schools, based in television networks, news agencies and/or newspapers, is dedicated to the subject of working with social networks. This, by itself, is a testimony to the fact that Internet happens to be the main communication channel for professional journalists. Therefore, I would argue that, in reality, the issue concerns not the so-called “cold war” between traditional and social media, but the interaction and interdependence of technologies.
The Lighthouse in the Sea of Information
The round-table addressing the role of media in societal developments organized by AzerTAc within the framework of the Fourth Baku International Humanitarian Forum in early October provided an opportunity for comparison of views of representatives of traditional media on the issue and clarification of their ideas about the future of media as an industry.
Many arguments of my colleagues were heard and discussed, and I’d like to touch upon some of them. According to Peter Kropsch, the CEO of Austria Presse Agentur (APA), news agencies in our digital age must address two tasks in order to keep their traditional role in the media landscape and society. The first one involves producing more reliable and fact-based information and news for end-users. Mr. Kropsch who called a news agency a “Lighthouse in the sea of information” believes that the second goal must be polishing the existing path, “leading from being informed to understanding” of the news, and used by the media and all beneficiaries, by detailed structuring of information.
Nguyen Duc Loi, Director of Vietnam News Agency (VNA), in turn, stated that social media shall be used as a distribution tool to facilitate dissemination of information. Not too long ago, when websites came online, companies in newspaper business were concerned about their sustainability. With the emergence of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, news websites are now facing similar challenges.
Similar concerns are raised in Azerbaijan. Aynur Bashirli, Dean of the Department of Media and Communication Technologies of Baku Slavic University, is troubled by regular Facebook statuses turning into news. During her speech at the Humanitarian Forum, she attributed one of the reasons for dramatic decline of significance of news in traditional media to susceptibility of journalists to social media. “If social media can replace traditional journalism, is there then a need for educational degrees in journalism?” she asked. I share the professor’s concern and agree that not only should the news agencies avoid susceptibility to social media, but, on contrary, as our colleague from Austria stated, become the lighthouse in the sea of information.
Criteria for delivery of news in the new epoch: speed and comfort
The 21st century is the age of speed. Thence, it matters that news are delivered in a fast and user-friendly way. There is virtually no time gap between posting the news and its availability for the readership in social media. Normally, to obtain news, people would have to visit and browse news websites. In social network though, the end-users are delivered the same news with applicable image(s) with a click of button or scroll of a page. Social networks show users developments and products of their interests according to their earlier searches and readership.
However, not all, particularly, the older generation attempt to follow the newest and unusual for them trends. I can proudly say that our agency keeps up with challenges of the new era. Nearly all of our personnel, irrespective of their age, use social technologies in their daily business. It cannot be otherwise since our era is the age of high technologies rather than of a pen and paper.
Our reporters and editors use Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and other social networks in their work. Our employees create special stories, including multimedia reports to be used in social networks in response to the demand of the audience.
Multimedia reports can be created in real time mode. If our reporter participates in any given event, he or she shares observations online, which is then enriched by the comments of the audience with facts and arguments of their own.
AzerTAc`s multimedia reports contain photographs from the scene, interview with the witnesses of events, participants and officials, analyses of experts. Like in any reputable agency, we place the reports on our website and immediately post them in social networks. Our main goal is delivering accurate and prompt information about the story to the audience and minimizing unverified information through all channels available to us.
New technologies and individual brands
Social media and new technologies are virtually indivisible when it comes to production of multimedia reports. Infographics, video and audio materials, statistics tables, geo-economic maps are all important integral parts of a multimedia report. Back in the days among the newspaper reporters there was an expression “In conclusion of my remarks.” A contemporary multimedia report may not be concluded as such. As a matter of fact, in many cases it is impossible and unacceptable to conclude a story without follow ups. An online report does not end with posting a news piece on the website since a journalist who works on the issue continues to monitor the events for some time. After finalizing the first report, a reporter will continue to update the information as long as the story continues to develop. This by itself encourages the audience to return to this report, see the previously reported full story and any follow-up therein. This, of course, was impossible a few decades ago, when reporters of my age started their careers in journalism, at a time when there was not even a theoretical understanding of what an Internet could be and when we considered our work complete after our piece was published.
Social networks have a serious impact on modern journalism all over the world. They continue to remain not only a source of exclusive information received from newsmakers and witnesses of events but also have a great leverage over forming audiences. Another aspect of the issue is that each agency is not only represented by its staff as one team or unit, if you will, but also by every employee individually, who happen to have their own audiences in social networks.
Each of these journalists and reporters must, of course, follow common guidelines of their agency. In addition, each one of them has his own individual style of writing. In many cases, an author can be recognized even without a byline in his article. In many cases, many reporters have their own personal blogs, special columns within separate categories on the agencies` websites. Shaping an individual brand is of great importance for such modern journalists, one recognized for his proficiency and knowledge his field. That’s why it’s important to explore the ways of attracting wider audiences to their accounts not just as employees of a news agency but also as authors of individual online blogs.
There are many way of reaching out to audiences. For example, tweeting about breaking news, using hashtags, sharing information they consider interesting with reference to the source and so forth. Notably, a majority of employees of media organizations – freelancers excluded – already consider online blogging a needless burden, not realizing why they have to do the same type of work twice. That’s why they often limit themselves with posting and commenting on links on Facebook. These people often fairly wonder why they need to create individual blogs because they want to be on the scene, take photographs and directly communicate with newsmakers without just compiling and posting tweets of newsmakers in networks. However, future of digital journalism for these authors of internet publications is associated with this format of professional live blogging.
The most promising journalistic professions of the future
The present reality requires a different and modern approach to both the journalistic profession and the media industry. In this regard, I cannot but disagree with the opinion of my colleague Andrey Verkovsky from the Department of Journalism of Moscow State University who said that “…blogs increasingly win more space in the media landscape from traditional media. Large publications attract readers by placing posts of famous bloggers on their websites. In the future, journalism based on compilation of already existing information will be the main competitor to the traditional media. A skillful compiler who writes excerpts from original texts, contrasts different stances and provokes abrupt debates is another promising professional.”
Having said that, it is noteworthy to mention the analysis of Forbes magazine in 2009 which concluded that profession of a journalist, aggregating stories will be in high demand.
Are we approaching times when the number of information consumers through new forms of media will exceed the number of TV viewers and readers of newspapers, which will make the latter extinct? Or are we still far from that milestone? It will all depend also on the flexibility of traditional media, how responsive they are to the challenges of contemporary currents, their ability to adopt and master new technologies and modern brands, and of course, on financial means.
Aslan Aslanov is the General Director of Azerbaijan State Telegraph Agency (AzerTAc) in Baku, Azerbaijan.