Social media vital source of information
Published On February 6, 2014 » 4202 Views» By Administrator Times » Features
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• Media houses can enhance their mandate by continually engaging their audiences online.

• Media houses can enhance their mandate by continually engaging their audiences online.

By GETHSEMANE MWIZABI –

SOCIAL media is the buzzword these days. It is the latest addiction with lots of people under its spell.

With this resident reality that has befallen developing countries like Zambia, it is inevitable that public, community and private media alike embrace the use of social media to reach out where the people are.

March 2013 statistics indicate that over 1.15 billion people were on Facebook, and millions on Twitter, and other social media platforms.

This in itself makes it unrealistic for public media to continue pursuing traditional news dissemination methods when countries like the United States have about 30 per cent of people accessing their news via Facebook.

In order to actively perform its role as the ‘people’s media’, media houses can enhance their mandate by continually engaging their audiences online.

This creates a vibrant, professional public media that offers favourable competition to private media, which in turn promotes media plurality, one of the tenets for democracy and good governance.

Tapiwa Zivira, an online reporter from Zimbabwe reveals that private media houses have taken a lead in embracing digital transformation, while public media houses have followed suit after realising the need to engage with the public using platforms where people are.

The culture of nowadays is one in which the younger generation does not seem to value newspapers, and they are more dependent on their smart-phones for news and information.

A lot of development has taken place in Zambia, where the public media is now embracing social media in a society where the majority of the population, especially those in urban areas, are hooked onto their phone and tablets which have access to internet.

One such public media that is moving with the changing times is the Times of Zambia, which has introduced the e-times, a PDF format of the newspaper that can be accessed on the internet by the use of gadgets such as cellphones.

This service which attracts only a minimal subscription is accessible through email and comes with regular updates posted on its website to keep the public informed.

Times Printpak senior marketing officer, Timothy Kaputo believes that with the newspaper embracing the use of social media, several people now have opportunity to read newspapers, through the internet and are not just dependent on the traditional hard copy.

“We want to capture as many people as possible. That’s why our e-times subscription fees are so low,” Mr Kaputo said.

There is no doubt that social media has become “the platform” for public discourse because it affords producers (Produce + User) unlimited to freedom to discuss issues pertinent to their wellbeing.

Therefore, it means that just like traditional forms of information sharing, social media is another means of information sharing but the difference with other platforms is that one can share information with a wider network of people.

Botswana’s Kutlwano Magazine editor Thomas Nkhoma explained that the information is quick and mostly told from eye witness account.

Consequently, for traditional media like newspapers, radio and television to catch what topical issues are as well as to gauge the mood on certain social-economic or political issues, social media is the platform for such.

“If newspapers still want to remain relevant they must embrace social media because nowadays news is on social networks. Social networks are the first to carry breaking news and you can imagine if a newspaper doesn’t know what’s on social networks, it will always be trailing behind with news,” Mr Nkhoma said.

In order to know what news to report, lest one reports stale news as breaking news, there is need to be up to date with what is going on in social networks.

Brenda Zulu, director Africa Interactive Media and a member of the Zambian Bloggers Network believes there is need for the public media challenge of access to the internet to come to an end.

Public media need to be connected to the Zamtel fibre Optic which has high speed.

New media needs high internet bandwidth as there is a lot of uploading of content needed in the work.

For new media to become a reality there is need for equipment to be bought.

Journalists need digital cameras, laptops, video cameras, recorders and iPads, among other gadgets.

Public media needs to run multimedia platforms which are interactive and dynamic in nature.

To practice new media, the Journalists need internet at home and they need to be in possession of mobile dongles or wireless routers.

New media will require journalists to have smart phones (iPhones, Blackberry, Samsung, Nokia Lumia and many other types) and also need to acquire Tablets.

Training is also very vital for the journalists who will be adding content to the Public Media platforms.

“We need to see more maps, pie charts, Geographical Information System generated maps in new media stories.

We also need to see how we can integrate SMS in new media as the mobile phone is in everyone’s hand,” Ms Zulu said.

It is important that the journalists know how to write copy and management of online platforms. In this case, Ms Zulu proposed that some staff and senior managers at public media Institutions be attached to newspapers in South Africa where the Online Media is advanced.

This is important as newspapers also need to learn on how they can monetize the online media platforms.

There is need for public media to come up with a business model for their new media platforms. Classified adverts can all go online.

In the western world, the classified adverts have disappeared from the newspapers because they have gone online.

“We need classified adverts online. Since other people are still not yet online, it is fine to still have the classified adverts both in the newspapers and online,” she said.

Many are times when many websites have failed because of relying on one internet service provider for hosting or a main internet domain to host the public media.

The hosting of public media websites with the internet service provider (ISP) comes with its own challenges. Hosting with ‘dot zm’ domain name is good for directing traffic in Africa and also for branding purposes.

But there is also need for a greater responsibility to come from the ISP which at one time was struck by a virus making many websites that host with it loose their content.

This is not healthy for any media institution. In the recent past, the regulator ZICTA has taken up domain name registration and the country is running a duo registration process for the dot zm domain name.

The government needs to engage a consultant to have public media websites evaluated, and also to ensure that this report is important to show the shortcomings of the current sites and also what we currently have.

Online media actually needs a completely new department with its own staff to operate well.

Like the Times of Zambia has done, there is need for a PDF copy of a newspaper online.

People go online for purposes of research, to read updates, and also to engage and network with others.

So there is also need for archives of previous copies of stories when people get to read online editions.

Public media needs to show what people’s comments are and they could moderate these comments.

With online media many issues are handled virtually, for instance, there could be virtual meetings on diary discussions.

A journalist does not need to be physically present at a newspaper to present a diary idea. As for all newspaper staff, they would need to undergo training on International Computer Driving Licence so they are licensed.

This is important for everyone to have knowledge on how they can use a computer. This knowledge is needed for everyone from a guard to the top manager.

Public media also needs to come up with an online new media strategy. This is important because of their need for online media to be different from the newspaper.

Apart from having newspaper content, online media needs to have additional content which distinguishes it from the newspaper. I know that some public media organizations also run printing, courier services, among many other services.

All these departments need visibility on the online platforms to attract more customers.

Online media includes social media. There is need for public media to develop a social media strategy.

To increase content public media also needs to involve citizen journalists as long as they can verify their content.

PANOS-Zambia Information Communication Technology (ICT) programme manager Muthoniswa Banda has observed that a lot of citizens are now taking to the internet to collect vital information necessary for their well being.

A lot of private citizens are posting all sorts of un-researched and unconfirmed information onto the internet.

“Citizens have no time to queue for data because at the click of a button they can have millions of sites with some kind of information.” he said.

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