A generation ago, or even a decade ago, journalism schools never taught students new media with any serious perspective about its place in the future (the full import of Nicholas Negroponte and Marshall McLuhan’s philosophies was not realised). The journalistic landscape is even today littered with papers on the haze surrounding the future of the media. News production and distribution is multiplying like amoeba in a giant cyber petri dish, luxuriating in the freedom of the medium. Who will make the money from this proliferation and fragmentation? Will printed newspapers survive? Is the US downtrend in print fortunes an ominous early sign of what will inevitably happen to the rest of the world?
I have had the benefit of listening to media analysits like Mario Garcia who forecast at a Poynter Institute event in May, that printed newspapers will become an intervening segment of the news cycle that begins with the Internet and mobile phones, progresses to print and culminates in an even bigger way with the Internet. The newspaper will just be, Dr. Garcia says, a compact and tangible option but a much smaller part of the media as we know it. That’s one reason why Dr. Garcia, Dr. Pegie Stark Adam and Ms. Sara Quinn are strengthening their EyeTrack research into online media, with help from the University of Florida.
Which brings us to the question, what will happen to “traditional” print journalists ? Let us for convenience describe them as TraJos, in keeping with the culture of compression that characterises digital media. Many TraJos are today comfortable with computers, pagination systems, MP3 recorders for interviews and for a minority, even online expression through blogs. They are not entirely the newsprint and ink people of old.
Interestingly, the work of TraJos features in the websites of most newspapers, as online showcasing of print stories. And they like it.
There is a gap, however, that exists between the TraJos and the online future. Not many want to provide their own newspaper websites with digital content directly, that is, before the printed paper gets it. Even if managements are ready to break news online first, TraJo culture comes in the way of making the transition. For some, print is permanence, online is ephemeral.
But some savvy print journalists are discovering the efficiency of using mobile phones to take pictures, write short text and send it using the phone to an email account that feeds news update services. My colleague Roy Mathew in The Hindu did just that with a story on the Kerala Chief Minister V.S.Achuthanandan’s inspection of Munnar. His despatch was short, and contained the line “Sent using a … phone” and he also pushed a picture to The Hindu website directly from the phone, via email. Others want to do podcasts, made easier by the cheap MP3 recorders that are widely available.
This is the MoJo (mobile journalist) culture that will determine which journalists can make the transition. Karthik Subramanian is among the young journalists in India working for The Hindu with a keen sense of the future. That’s why he thinks of news as a 360 degree phenomenon.