The complete write-up
In recent times, especially the last year, social media has played a significant role in spreading protests throughout the globe, and at the same time, has changed the dynamics of the news flow dramatically.
And media convergence has made it possible.
In the news media industry, source of information is the main driving force. News production runs on the values like proximity, authenticity, validity and relevance based on the circumstance and genre of the news. Traditionally, organizational channels and news wires have been the main source of the information flow. The next big addition to it came from the Internet. Now no one can expect a newsroom without Internet and googled information. And social media is giving brilliant dimensions to this change especially in situations when proximity becomes more important than authenticity, as in cases of the follow-up stories.
We often come across reports that Twitter and Facebook intend to exploit the information flow through their networks to significantly alter the news industry and they have a point here to make, for they led the revolutions in the closed regimes like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. They have started sounding significant in iron-curtained regimes like China, Russia and Syria. Social media has made a difference in countries where the traditional media is totally controlled. Social media mobilized opinion of millions on issues like corruption and corporate greed, considered dead issues not so long ago.
So what did the social media do? How did it bypass the restrictive barriers that are used to control the traditional mass media? It made the information flow as fast as happening in the real time and at the same time allowed the people consuming the information to modify it with their expressions and further relay – all in the real time thus creating a chain that crossed the borders and drew international attention and hence increased pressure points. – from the report of ‘The Project on Information Technology and Political Islam’, University of Washington gives us some eye-opening pointers.
The last year was the year of the protester, a year marked by the protests when the common men took to the streets, from Tunisia to India, from Egypt to USA, from Canada to Greece, to protest regimes and to protest on issues.
Most of the protests were operated in a way totally amorphous with no figurehead. Instead, there were so many heroes, unnamed, leading from the front, fighting in the streets and on the communication platforms, outdoing the regimes and the controls, by disseminating their stories of struggle, plight and momentary triumphs.
And convergence gave them the global voice.
The human aspect of the media convergence blended so well with its technological and business counterparts - that it is going to be the next big thing in the news production industry.
Redoing the definition
Recently, CNN had a report on how iPad versions of all magazines except ‘Vogue’ were not properly readable on the latest version of the gazette due to its high resolution ratio. This has prompted other magazines to move swiftly to make modifications.
Websites, print editions and television programming – on any given day, they all have multiple stories based on important Tweets. Tweets form major chunk of breaking news stories these days. Right from the PMO to the junk celebrities of Indian film and sports industries, to the global newsmakers, everyone has now microblogging presence and it is significantly aiding to the news pool of the organizations.
Tunisia was named Facebook Revolution. Egypt rode high on live minute-by-minute updates on social media platforms to unite and mobilize the masses resulting in Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. Syria is being termed as ‘YouTube’ revolution. An unknown blogger Alexei Navalny has become the central opposition figure in Russia. Social media played the central role in mobilizing masses against the rigged Duma and Presidential elections in Russia.
We are not sure of the scale of the massacre brought about by Hafez Assad in Syria in 1982 but we are well aware of the terror unleashed by Bashar al-Assad on his own countrymen. The scale of human killings in the Tiananmen Massacre is still debatable but we had so many clear visuals of the villagers protesting in a small Chinese village Wukan challenging the state against forced land seizures.
Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Russia, China – scattered geographical dots with poor record of open communication, and yet, many of us in India, and in many countries like India, not directly engaged with the geopolitical realms of these iron-curtained countries, are very well aware of what happened in these countries during the protest phase.
And the source of the information in every such case has been the protester on the street. He fed the social media platforms on Internet with information consistently. Direct access of the consumer to the Tweets, Facebook posts, blogs and YouTube videos echoed and connected to the strength of the protester. It was good enough reason for the media houses to go for these as the worthy sources to use the information (obviously with the rider, quoting the source as from this or that social media platform.)
If we say media convergence is basically Internet driven, it is an apt reference point. Internet has made accessing information in the real time much easier and a lot more game. There are specific secondary research tools available to harness information from the Internet. And a tectonic shift in the social media usage habit towards serious issues like protesting corruption or despots has suddenly opened floodgates of information availability.
Sifting of desired from the rubbish is a meticulous task but it is compensated by the volume of the worthy information available.
So even if it might have been boring to monitor the social media trend analytics on Osama bin Laden, it was worth it for the news worms, for, a Tweet broke the news first that he was killed. The only video of Muammar Gaddafi’s fate available was shot on cellphone camera and circulated through the social media platforms. During his August fast last year, Anna Hazare released on YouTube his message from inside the prison. (And there are multiple such case studies available. Just google for it.)
Almost of the media houses have presence across the communication platforms – print, electronic and web. With increasing count of smartphones, mobile version of the news sites is gaining a steady foothold.
The multiplied news sources provide information ‘as-it-happens’. Producers go for instant packaging. Consumers get the information ‘almost-as-it-happens’.
Convergence helps media outfits to synchronize content by making seamless flow of information from one platform to the other possible with sharing and transmission in real time. If being 24/7 counts, Internet has become the primary interface between the consumer and the producer, and in turn, modifying the way information is packaged and consumed. And the positive usage of the social media is the perfect topping over it.