By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha. AfroFutures.com Global Editor At-Large
IN Zimbabwe, as in many parts of the world, many sectors of the traditional news industry have been slow to embrace changes brought on by digital technology. Editors and publishers have not been adept at adopting and implementing a faster and more consistent pace of innovation and investment that is required in the new online environment of journalism. If anything, publishers have done very little to advance online platforms of their publications.
What is often the case in most newsrooms in Zimbabwe is something called “shoveling” where content is simply taken from print publications and then put online. There is very little attention to the fact that the online environment has its own unique requirements. In addition, advertisers – main source of revenue for the traditional media – have also been slow to shift their attention to online platforms.
Granted to say that, the past decade of Zimbabwe’s fallout has had a paradoxical impact on the growth of online journalism and publications in Zimbabwe. First, lack of investment in the technology sector has resulted in a stagnant growth of people with access to the Internet. Currently, it is estimated that 12 percent or 1,6 million people in the country have some kind of access to the Net, which simply means that traditional media – especially radio and television – still have a far greater reach. Also, Internet is mainly an urban phenomena, and highly elitist.
Interesting though, due to repressive media laws couple with the difficult economic circumstance in the country, many journalist turned to online journalism, so to speak. Furthermore, enterprising journalists and entrepreneurs, particularly in the diaspora established online platforms which local journalists gladly contributed content. So, in a way, there has been some form of online journalism which has been emerging in the country but given the potential and opportunity that the Internet presents to journalism, it’s certainly only a trickle.
What has been clearly missing though is an effective business model, specifically at operational and financial levels. Defining an effective model has been a major challenge for publishers across the globe. Investing in online journalism without an indication of ROI has seen many publishers not fully committed to the medium.
For journalists, however, without doubt, there’s never been a better time to be a journalist. There has never been a better time that offered so many powerful ways to tell stories and serve readers with information. There are more tools, more interaction with audiences and the near disappearance of traditional constraints of time and space.
Clearly the digital economy has transformed the marketplace for news and information from one of scarcity to one of abundance. Newspapers had a virtual monopoly on their marketplaces for decades but that is no longer the case as new distribution channels of information have emerged.
What is clearly required is a paradigm shift in the way that Zimbabweans do journalism. As Michae Riley, former editor of The Roanake Times succinctly put it:
“No longer are we purely media companies; we must become technology companies, too, and that means we must raise our technology IQ to compete in a digitally transformed world.”
For journalists, there is a need to rethink about their role as well as their modus operandi. No longer is it sufficient to simply collect news and funnel it through the editorial channel. While in Zimbabwe, the impact of technology may appear to be remote, there are movements in the sector which make a strong case for journalists to change their approach to work. Put simply, there’s need for new and different thinking in news organizations to survive and thrive in the new media landscape.
It does not mean, though, that the traditional values of news collection including objectivity, fairness, accuracy should be thrown out of the window. They still matter very much especially in an environment where information and news moves so fast and can potentially cause irreparable damage if inaccurate.
To function effectively, journalists need to gain a fuller appreciation of the online environment.
They need to increase their technology IQ. Moreover, they need to understand how to reach their audiences utilizing social media tools. Most importantly, they need to appreciate that they are no longer simply journalists in the traditional sense but are knowledge creators who can become media brands themselves if they effectively use the tools that are available in the online marketplace.
Whatever the case, the need for a paradigm shift in the way journalism is done is clear: tomorrow’s potential readers will use the Web in ways that we can hardly imagine. More and more will news cease to be a lecture but a conversation in which journalist will be actively required to participate.
And the only way we’ll be able to take advantage is if we’re aware of the technologies and actively participate in the changing landscape. New and evolving technology and gadgets have changed – and will continue to change – the markets that news operations are aiming to serve.