CHAPTER TWO: Effects of Digitalization on the Mainstream Media in Kenya
2.1 Digital Technologies and the Media Business
Digital technologies have significantly enhanced the collection, dissemination and consumption of information and news. Digital technologies have enabled the creation of value chains, hence reducing the cost of production and distribution. Media products whether print, audio or television content are offered both through mainstream and social media to reach disparate audiences. Therefore, by bringing together different media platforms, media organizations are able to benefit from reduced investments. This convergence enables media houses with multiple platforms such as SG to generate news and content from a pool of reporters and correspondents with skills to report for print, radio and television. Herrick (2003) notes that mobile journalists have become jack of all trades because they are expected to operate all gadgets necessary to write stories for converged media houses. This is considered more efficient as journalists are able to write a story, take a picture, shoot and edit a video as part of their work. These strategies are aimed at enhancing efficiency, cost cutting, and maximization of human, capital and other resources.
Media organizations have taken advantage of digitalization to address changing audience needs and demands. Media organizations such as SG and NMG send regular news updates or breaking news through mobile phones to those who have subscribed to the service. The ‘instant’ and constant delivery of news and other mobile products via mobile telephony has been the focus of many opportunistic media businesses keen on finding new modes of delivering ‘tailor-made’ content to consumers who subscribe and pay a fee for such material. These new revenue streams are inevitable in a highly competitive media environment. However, market and audience demand seem to be forcing the media to provide half-baked information in the form of breaking news. On the other hand, this benefits the consumer who receives information instantly without having to wait for the news bulletin or for the next day’s newspaper to learn about events around them or in other parts of the world. This has forced many organizations to quickly adapt as they seek to satisfy the needs of diverse audiences. However, this tendency threatens the depth and quality of information offered to audiences as well as the credibility and reliability of media as conveyors of ‘truthful’, credible and reliable information, pictures as well as audio and video content.
2.2 Digital Technologies Widening Audience Reach
The growing convergence and availability of various media forms have further contributed to a richer experience between the media, the producers and consumers. Convergence is especially critical to mainstream media companies seeking to diversify their business in attempts to explore and capture new markets, and the growing group of consumers, especially the affluent young audiences.
Television and radio broadcasting and the availability and the availability of mobile internet have changed the focus of media investments towards the search for new avenues of communication. Declining prices of mobile handsets, subscription to mobile services, and innovative methodologies of delivering popular content like music and news via radio, television and the internet may be aiding the media.
Innovative collaboration arrangements between television stations have emerged as part of restructuring and strategizing, adapting to modern business trends as well as their desire to survive and be profitable in a hyper-competitive media environment. Mainstream television stations such as NTV, KTN, Citizen TV, K24 and KBC have taken to streamlining live online in a bid to reach expatriate Kenyans and others interested in the country. They also post their news videos and audio clips on YouTube and other online platforms regularly. These kinds of technological convergence, defined broadly as the converging of specific media types such as print, audio, and video into digital formats makes economic sense because of the need to address or meet the media needs of disparate audiences .
2.3 Digitalization on Media Ethics
The collection, packaging, analysis and dissemination of media products are becoming increasingly participatory. The active participation of users and consumers is seen not only as a common feature of modern productions but desirable as part of increasing cultivation of symbiotic relationship and discipleship, and loyalty which is important as competition for audiences intensifies. Facilities such as Facebook and Twitter have changed the way journalism is practised in Kenya. ‘Ordinary’ people are now increasingly involved in media business by contributing stories, pictures, and audio-visual material for publication by mainstream media, leading to the growing practice of digital journalism. In essence, people now easily interact not only with content but also with media workers. In addition they can ‘tell’ their own stories by side-stepping information gatekeepers or middlepersons who once controlled information and media products.
Digital technologies have offered the user opportunities and power to determine what they want to consume. Although this impacts professional journalistic values and modes of operation, the rise of consumer involvement and to some extent power to prosumers, and in the process circumvent vested interests of media owners, advertisers and others. These prosumers are now more proactive, active and questioning of journalism and media.
Despite the growth of consumer participation in media productions and especially journalism, there are numerous concerns that have eroded professional values. The credibility and reliability of information generated by citizens practising citizen journalism is often in doubt although sometimes even established mainstream media use content generated by audiences.
The rise of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other social media is seen as typical examples of user-participation. As mentioned above, the attendant symbiotic relationship and discipleship developed from such strategies leads to brand loyalty which is important as competition for audiences and revenue intensifies.
The growth of the media industry, notwithstanding media industry watchers, regulators and moral police have begun to worry about content vis-à-vis societal morals which they observe is increasingly corrupted due to lack of strict controls oftentimes applied to traditional media. The democratic nature of mobile and citizen journalism means producers of these new forms of journalism and media products are not regulated by particular legal or even cultural censures and considerations. Indeed, if mobile phones are not used by scammers and criminals to fleece unsuspecting innocent users and even gullible people, pornographic content and other such texts delivered to mobile handsets have moralists worried as these do not conform to societal values.
In addition, the media choices available as a result of commercial and market demands and pressures are pushing media towards sensationalism, as the news agenda is now increasingly determined by its potential for generating revenue. This undoubtedly affects the way media behave and what they avail to consumers especially those who desire content that might not subscribe to prescribed legal, cultural or societal requirements. Besides, it has become easier for prosumers to circumvent regulators and moral police because content is demand driven and might not be on the mass market.
Unlike traditional media such as television, radio and print that would be easy to regulate and police, mobile media offers opportunities to beat regulation and control.
2.4 Social Media as a Field of Study in Media Training Institutions
The study noted that social media was not taken as a serious field of study by media training institutions. While those graduating from journalism and media schools may be active users of social media, the skills they possess may not suffice in the digital environment of the media industry. The development of a digital journalism specialism is key to the success of modern journalism in Kenya. The modern-day journalist must thrive in traditional journalism as well as digital journalism. Journalism training institutions should invest in multimedia labs where students can gain digital journalism skills.