Monday, April 27, 2009

Is convergence killing journalism as we know it?

The word convergence originates from mathematics and science. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines convergence as the merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole. The concept of convergence was first popularised by Ithiel de Sola Pool in his landmark 1983 book, "The Technologies of Freedom,". Pool described what he called "the convergence of modes:"

"The explanation for the current convergence between historically separated modes of communication lies in the ability of digital electronics. Conversation, theater, news and text are all increasingly delivered electronically ... [E]lectronic technology is bringing all modes of communications into one grand system."

The two most important convergent technologies today are the computer and the mobile phones. With increased processor speeds and larger storage spaces, the computer has become the most powerful technologically convergent gadget. Text, voice, pictures, video, fax and the internet are the media that have converged into one technology – the computer. Computers have changed the way media organisations gather information, design the content and produce and distribute it to the audience. The mobile phone offers the second most important technological convergence, offering almost the same benefits as that of a computer, along with the benefit of portability. 

With a mobile phone, a laptop computer, a video camera and a microphone, the age of backpacking journalism has arrived. A single person can, with the help of these convergent technologies gather information, edit it and create the content for all the media channels – newspapers, television, radio and the internet. 

Convergence has also led to 'sharing' of content among the television reporters, where cameras are hooked up and footage shared. This leads to many television channels 'breaking' the same news at the same time.

This multi-tasking functionality is not easy to adopt for the traditional journalist. Moreover, multi-tasking has taken a toll on the quality of news content, in the mad race for ‘breaking news’. This has raised concerns among journalists, researchers and also the audience about the quality of news appearing on the TV channels and also in the print and the internet. With large media organisations in India beginning to diverge and cater to print, television, radio and the internet audiences, the effect of convergent technologies will be more and more evident in the coming years.

The other most important phenomenon is the divergence. With information available at the click of the mouse, today's reader is not satisfied with the newspaper or the news on television or the radio. There are many more information channels availabel to choose from. Websites, news websites, blogs and community sites are all there to get more spicy and sometimes illogical and a lot of times, unauthenticated information. Add sites like YouTube and several similar sites and you also have videos available online. This has led to divergence of news.

So what could be the future of journalism? What are the skill-sets that a journalist should have in this mad race of 'breaking news' to survive and to prosper? The ideal scenario would be this....

Today's journalist ideally should : 

  • Handle and use the video and still camera
  • Think quickly spicy and attention catching headlines on the field 
  • Once the shoot is done, capture the footage on a laptop
  • Be adept at using a word processing, video editing, sound editing software
  • Write the story for newspaper, television, radio and the website.
  • Edit the footage, lay music and sound tracks
  • Encode the footage for the television, online video site and portable devices like the iPod
  • Create an audio file for the radio
  • Email the story to the newspaper
  • Upload the video and the audio files in different formats to the channel server as well as the online video website using FTP or by uplinking to the satellite
  • Move on to the next place to cover more news

And all this in a period of about an hour. This is the kind of multi-tasking that I think journalist will have to adapt to in the future. The media organisations, in turn, will have to develop a system by which the journalist on the ground is fed with proper background research, which can help in writing a story which is thematic and not just episodic. Ideally there should be a bank of researchers with access to archives to constantly monitor and communicate with the journalists on the ground. Only then we will be able to see an inprovement in the quality in news. Convergent technologies will actually be beneficial and the high standards of journalism could be back. And we might actually be able to get a responsible press, the fourth pillar of democracy.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Multi-tasking Professional

Only the fittest will survive. So said Charles Darwin. And how true it is in today's world!

With the world going digital, it is important for every professional to learn multiple skills and be able to produce content for multiple media, be it for the print, television, radio, computers or mobile phones. If you work in a corporate house, you should be able to put together a good presentation and also be able to work on a spread sheet. If you are in advertising, you need to understand Photoshop, CorelDraw and Powerpoint to present your work to your clients. As a journalist, you should be able to produce content for all the media. In short, one has to be a multi-skilled individual to survive.

I have been fortunate to have worked with all the media in one capacity or the other. I got introduced to computers in 1991 and immediately got addicted to them. The past 18 years has been an exciting roller-coaster ride for me and my computer(with several upgrades) and I do call myself a multi-tasking individual. I teach at the Department of Communication, University of Mumbai and try to share whatever skills I have learnt over the years, with my students. 

I am going to visualise different scenarios in a variety of professions and talk about the skill-sets required by professionals in today's world and may be the future. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Electronic Media

In 1947, the first transistor was invented by William Shockley and in 1958, Jack Kilby invented the first IC or Integrated Circuit. These are arguably two of the greatest inventions of the twentieth century. These two inventions kickstarted the electronic industry and the result is for all to see. Today there is electronics in almost every facet of our life. From the time you are woken up by the electronic beep of your alarm clock to the time you crash out in the bed with the remote in your hand, electronics rules your life. 

In his book 'The Medium is the Massage', Marchall McLuhan argues that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. Meaning the medium itself becomes the message. He also writes about how modern media are extensions of human senses.

It is very important that a student of electronic media should learn the medium itself as well as the message that can be broadcast through the medium.

The Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Mumbai has started a new post-graduate degree - MA in Electronic Media. This is a comprehensive course which will train the students to create content for the television, radio, films and mobile phones. The course will also teach the students how to create content for the internet and also to create interactive CD-ROMs.

MA in Electronic Media is a comprehensive course covering Communication and Media Theory, Global Electronic Medium, Writing, reporting and editing skills, Programming in C, HTML, JavaScript, PHP, Production for Television and the Radio, Content creation for the Internet including web designing and also multimedia production and programming which will include Flash, Director and also an introduction to 3D animation. These topics will be covered in the first three semesters. The fourth semester will be an exciting 'convergence' projects where the students will be required to write and produce content for all the electronic media - television, radio, CD-ROMs, Internet and Mobile phones & iPods.

You can have a look at the curriculum here: