July 4, 2017

New Media: Threat or complement to traditional media?

Garba Shehu

By Garba Shehu

THE evolution of mass media is a narrative almost as old as the history of humanity itself. If we accept that one of the attributes that makes us humans is the intrinsic urge to access or amass information about ourselves and our environment, and to share/exchange this information with other humans, it’s a given that humanity will always be in search of quicker and more efficient ways of information-gathering and sharing.

As a practitioner in media enterprise with decades of experience, I know first-hand that the evolution of any new media is a threat to existing ones, and that media professionals rarely enthusiastically welcome new entrants to the enterprise.

Let me quickly recall the story told by Ken Auletta, in his best-selling book, “Googled – The End of the World As We Know It” about the visit “on a sunny June day in 2003” of Mel Karmazin, then president of Viacom, then the fourth largest media company in the world, to Google campus, in Mountain View, California.

Karmazin’s mission was a search for new business partners. Described as a “master salesman” and “an old-fashioned, show-me-the-money guy (who) was skeptical of Silicon Valley companies,” he had heard of Google’s wonders but being a private company, Google, which was then five years old, didn’t publicise its operating results.

Search engine

Karmazin’s hosts – Google’s co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and CEO, Eric Schmidt – explained how Google’s “neutral search engine favoured no company and no advertisers”; how Google’s advertising model, which is the source of most of its revenues, was a bidding system which helped advertisers to find out the effectiveness of their advertisers because, instead of the traditional model based on what till today is called “cost per thousand viewers” Google’s model (called cost per click) “ensured that advertisers were charged only when the user clicked on an ad.

With Google Analytics, advertisers “can track day by day, hour by hour, the number of clicks and sales, the traffic produced by the keywords chosen, the conversion rate from click to sale – in sum, the overall effectiveness of an ad.” This wasn’t what Karmazin had lived on. He told his hosts: “You don’t want to have people know what works.

When you know what works or not, you tend to charge less money than when you have this aura and you’re selling this mystique…. You’re  f*****g with the magic.” Hahaha. As Marissa Mayer, who was Google’s first female engineer and employee #20, recalled, “Google’s founders always asked, “Why does this have to be the way it is? Why can’t you ‘f***k with the magic.’”

You may want to know, my dear friends, that in the last quarter of 2015, Google made US$19billion from advertising,  while, in the same period, Viacom’s total revenues totaled US$3.79billion. And, speaking of Mayer, you should also know that till a few days ago, she was chief executive of Yahoo, an internet company. She resigned from the company when Verizon, a telecommunications company, took it over. So, the history of mass communication, has been about change and, permit me to say, people ‘f*****g with the magic.’

A brief look at Traditional media experimentation:

In its best days, the Sunday Times in Lagos had a print run of half-a-million copies. In the early 80s, it was this country’s largest circulating newspaper. One of their correspondents visiting Kano city on official business had a surprising encounter as he stood by the roadside to pick a taxi.

A large convoy noisily led by siren-blowing police vehicles stopped by him. Unsure of his safety, he made to run and as he took the first few steps in retreat, he heard a familiar voice calling out his name. Yes, it was the voice of the newly-elected State Governor who he met and became friends with as a Senator in the National Assembly, then in Lagos. The Governor requested him to join him in the executive car and as they drove, he started a conversation.

“I have a big problem that you can solve.  “When I campaigned for the seat, I swore that I will never reside in the Government House. You know that my party, the People’s Redemption Party, PRP is a party of the masses, the Talakawa who detests all forms of extravagant lifestyle.

“I promised not to use the State house on the basis that my predecessor, the candidate I beat in the election had been wasteful by building too much luxury into that residence.”Now I have seen it, I like it and I want to move in. How can you help me?”

The next edition of Sunday Times ran a screaming headline, to the effect that the new Governor was determined to defy ghosts and evil spirits that have camped inside the government house; that the Governor, himself a spiritually powerful man was determined that the evil occupants of the State house cannot stop him from sleeping in the mansion. Thereafter, he moved in. Those were the days of the dominance of the print press in our country.

The New media experiementation

The last time I checked, the maverick president the Americans have, Donald Trump had a following of more than 15 million on Twitter.

A Nigerian blogger, Linda Ikeji has more than one million, six hundred followers, mostly young Nigerians who get their political news from her portal. Is it possible to count the number of people who read the news from Linda? You have to multiply that by the number of her followers and their followers and their followers on and on whenever they re-tweet her posts.

Beyond Mr. Trump who has a following more than five times the print edition of the New York Times and Linda Ikeji who has more people following her than the combined print editions of our daily newspapers, the Sunday Times and their correspondents face a big competition from every individual holding a phone, as they are empowered by technology to record and share the news as it breaks.

The news of the recent terrorist attack on the British parliament wasn’t broken by the BBC, Sky or the other mainstream media.

Individuals on site shared live feeds, real time as the terrorists attacked and emergency response came. Everything, bit by bit was watched on the screen by the horrified citizens as they sat in bars, restaurants, bus, the train, at home and office.

Theoretical perspective: It would not be out of place to apply the Karl Marx’s theory of dialectic materialism to the evolution of mass media. The invention of printing in the 15th Century and the rapid spread of the art of printing marked the period of profound, even revolutionary change in the medium of communication around the world. The first printed pages appeared more than 500 years ago and, since then, the media has been delivering information, entertainment and education through the printed word.

For centuries, print media remained the dominant medium for information transfer, unchallenged for much of that time. The invention of the telegraph in 1844 transformed print media. The new technology enabled the transmission of printed information within a matter of minutes, allowing more timely, relevant reporting.

The subsequent introduction of technologies of “mechanical reproduction” such as the phonograph, photography and cinema created new opportunities for disseminating images to wider audiences with increased power and immediacy. The subsequent invention of telephony, radio and television have been even more significant in compressing time and space in communicating information to larger masses. (Radio’s emergence, shortly after the end of the First World War, heralded the birth, in the mass communication enterprise, of what would be known as the ‘broadcast’ media).

Starting in the early 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States used radio as a platform to speak directly to the American people, in a series of “fireside chats” that forever changed the nature of political engagement. (See what Donald Trump is doing: using Twitter to speak directly to his base. During the campaigns, when he felt he was not getting a “fair coverage” from the networks, he decided to use Facebook Live to reach out to his base).

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England in 1953 was another transformative event of the 20th-Century media industry, being the first time after the Second World War that the world would congregate to witness a global event. In 1947, the Queen –then Princess Elizabeth – had asked that cameras be turned off during her wedding. The initial decision of the Coronation Committee, chaired by Prince Phillip, was to restrict coverage of the coronation to the west of the organ screen which is typically placed between the choir and the nave.

Condemnation followed swiftly.  “Beyond the precinct of Westminster, from the shores of Cornwall to the grey waters of the clyde, from the warm sunlight of the Weald of Kent to the green-blue loveliness of the Lakes,” wrote the Daily Mirror, “at least fifteen million of Her Majesty’s subjects will be abruptly shuttered off by what appears to be a monumental piece of misjudgement.”

The phrase, ‘the West of the Organ Screen’ soon notoriously remained as the symbolism of the old order that offered a privileged view to the favoured few. For conservatives in the system, like the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, the later decision of the Coronation Committee that cameras would be allowed beyond the screen, as long as there were “no close-ups”, was revolutionary. Indeed, the Archbishop had remarked that “the world would have been a happier place if television had never been discovered.”

The revolutionary incursion of the broadcast media into the media enterprise – symbolised by 1950s/1960s events like Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, the televised Nixon-Kennedy debates, and the broadcasting of footage from the Vietnam War – and the magnetic force of its commercial pull was the necessary stimulant that practitioners of the newspaper media needed to tweak the practices of their trade.

The Media convergence culture era

Itself a product of technological innovation with the invention of the typesetting machine in the 17th Century, it seems nothing else threatens the very existence of the newspaper as does technology. And in ensuring that they remain in business, newspaper editors and the broadcast media respectively have time and again embraced transition – from print to online, and most recently from broadcast to broadband.

As advancements in information technology give birth to a rising number of channels of mass communication (putting power in the hands of consumers of media content), the contest for relevance and revenue for traditional media professionals has never been fiercer than it is now. Recall the Mel Kermazin vs Google’s story.

With Facebook’s Live Video offering, WhatsApp’s ‘broadcast’ option, Snapchat’s content animation possibilities, and Twitter’s Trending Topics, media professionals now face unprecedented competition, from a new and increasingly difficult-to-predict crop of players.

But that is only one way of looking at it. These same channels which represent avenues for competition, simultaneously represent unprecedented opportunity. The challenge is for traditional media players to welcome these new technologies and platforms, and deploy them with a spirit of experimentation and adventure. Or to say it, as Googlers would, ‘f**k with the magic.’

Traditional media must develop and/or adapt digital applications an technologies which will give their audiences and communities a ‘voice’ in their news content. It is also important for traditional and new media to see themselves as complementary. It must be noted, against the backdrop of unending media ‘disruption’ and evolution, that today’s new media is tomorrow’s traditional media. Every one of the channels/platforms that is today referred to as traditional was once new and disruptive.

And if there’s an unerring principle in the evolution of the mass media enterprise, it is that for the media space – free-wheeling on populism as it is – to survive, traditional media must constantly learn to thrive on the same set of wheels as its newer incarnates. For their best continued relevance and sustainability, the New Media must begin to make adjustments and adopt reforms that cut growing excesses.

New media regulatory  framework in Nigeria: While the advanced society worries about the role of the internet in growing radicalisation of young people leading to extremism and hate crimes, societies such as our own, in addition to all these, face a thriving blogging industry that is dangerously unscrupulous because of the restrained enforcement of the enabling law. Please, avail yourself of the provisions of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc) Act, 2015 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria – 1999-2016 Enactments.

Sections (1) & 2 stipulate:

(a) Any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that- (b) he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent: commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

(2) Any person who knowingly or intentionally transmits or causes the transmission of any communication through a computer system or network – (a) to bully, threaten or harass another person, where such communication places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm or to another person; (c) containing any threat to harm the property or reputation of the addressee or of another or the reputation of a deceased person or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, to extort from any person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value: commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction—

(i) in the case of paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subsection to imprisonment for a term of 10 years and/or a minimum fine of N25,000,000.00; and (ii) in the case of paragraph (c) and (d) of this subsection, to imprisonment for a term of 5 years and/or a minimum fine of N15,000,000.00.

Conclusion: Having examined the trend what I call irresponsible conducts in the realm of the new media, I want to conclude this lecture by noting that, in the overall interest of the new media users, they have to urgently lead the way for self-regulation. They have to quickly desist from all acts that could injure other persons or what can harm the sensibility of other people. All these have to be done because, if things get out of hand, injured parties could resort to self-help or the authorities resort to applying the law.