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Five ways technology is changing the face of journalism

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Technology has disrupted and interrupted the way many of us do things, and journalism is no exception, writes STYLI CHARALAMBOUS, CEO of Daily Maverick.

From tablets to Twitter and smartphones to social media, the way we produce and consume news will never be the same. As with almost part of our lives, technology has interrupted and disrupted the way we used to do things, and journalism is no exception. When the hairs on our head are a little greyer we will look back at this period and hold it alongside that of the time of the printing press, when a revolution took place. And even though the face of journalism is being radically altered, the internal organs, the principles that guide the production of news remain the same. Here are the six ways technology has changed the world of news publishing.

1. Consumption

Remember those days of black stained fingers, and the fight for the sport pages over breakfast? The news cycle in the publishing game was 24hrs, as mills and presses converted trees into pages of information between our fingers. Now the news is constant, available anywhere at any time. All the time. We have laptops, tablets and smartphones that deliver a constant stream of never-ending updates and breaking stories. Pretty soon even our watches will be feeding our insatiable thirst for images and videos of Miley Cyrus’ latest twerking sensation.

News organisations must now compete for relevance and speed to market, as the public turn to being informed and entertained in 140 characters, or less. The latest DMMA report for July shows a staggering 62% increase in the number of unique browsers accessing member sites, just over 22 million, which goes to show that even at the foot of the African continent, the digital revolution is inevitable. Of those 22 million browsers, 39% were accessed on some kind of mobile device, with smartphones making up the majority of those devices.

2. Marketing

In the bad old days, news outlets would have to rely on rather expensive broadcast media, if they were indeed granted marketing budgets. Nowadays, entire organisations have launched, relying almost exclusively on social media and other digital channels such as referral search traffic and newsletters. Most news organisations rely heavily on their Twitter and Facebook activities to generate interest in a particular story, another difference from bygone days when marketing an individual story was rarely possible. Now with the like of page, our feeds can be populated with interesting stories from almost any news publisher in the world.

At the Daily Maverick we rack up almost half our traffic from social media and search traffic. Mail & Guardian has 135,000 followers on Twitter and some EWN reporters have individual accounts with almost as many as that. Expect the marketing clout of journalists social media profiles to come up in the next annual wage discussions.

3. Deliverables

The days of journalists only being asked to deliver written copy are soon coming to an end. Pretty soon journalists will be Go Pro cameras strapped to their berets as they become required to turn in video and audio alongside their written copy. The New York Times wowed the world with its interactive, multi-media and award-gobbling ‚”Snow Fall‚” blockbuster. To call it a story would be an injustice, as it took 12 dedicated staffers a little over 6 months to produce this 17,000 word masterpiece, complete with video, audio and even interactive computer generated graphics.

As bandwidth becomes more accessible and affordable, the demand for visual news will only increase, although not as a replacement but as a compliment to the written word. News organisations will no longer be able to call themselves publishers, but will have to evolve into media houses producing all types of content.

4. Barriers to entry

The last 10 years were supposed to herald the dawn of a new kind of journalism, one that prophets warned would render the traditional news houses obsolete. Citizens were supposed to rise up replace professional hacks, cutting out the need to pay for our news. But two things happened: Firstly, reading citizen journalist reports was akin to tasting home-brewed beer, not even close to tasting the real thing. I don’t care if a blogger was schooled in the Queen’s English by the lady herself, they will never be able to do the job of a seasoned, well-trained professional with a paid team of support staff. Secondly, news outlets are starting to give away their news for free anyway and the need for the citizen reporter faded as fast as the buzz word was coined.

Whilst the rise of citizen reporting never really took off, we did see a rise of another kind of news source that managed to take advantage of the lowered barriers to entry. In a room that measured no more than 15m square, and an apartheid era air-conditioner for company, Daily Maverick was born. With a team of five full-time staffers and an internet connection, the organisation has grown in four short years to become a significant voice in the media landscape. Almost 70% of the running costs are allocated to editorial, a figure that no-other news organisation in the country can match, and one made possible through technology.

5. Paywalls

For all the benefits that technology has brought, the major disadvantage has been the slow destruction of the traditional news business model. Giving content away for free only works if the advertising dollars are big enough to make up for it. But because the early foundations of digital publishing were left to those with propeller mounted caps, we live in an era when digital display advertising is lowly-traded commodity, viewed as the poor cousin in the world of advertising. And because of this mess, publishers with digital offerings are seeing print revenues decline faster than digital ones can replace them, with new competitors like Google and Facebook eating their digital lunches. And with no viable solution in sight, publishers are justifying the move to guarding their digital articles behind a paywall of some sort.

Whether justified or not, there is a lot of noise being made by publisher associations around the world about the time to start charging for access to content. There are so many challenges with adopting this method as the saviour of the news publishing business model, the biggest of which include having to change consumer behaviour as well as now having to compete with the biggest news houses in the world for a share of the subscription revenue pie.

Technology by its very nature is disruptive, in some instances for better and in the instance of the news publisher’s business model, for worse. They will need to accept the way that they did business before has a finite shelf-life, the expiry date looming large. Survival will require a complete rethink of how to generate revenue, leveraging all the assets the business has at its disposal and not just advertising space. Those who embrace this will survive and those who don’t will become another statistic of the great levelling force of technology.

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A career in data science – or your money back

The Explore Data Science Academy is offering high demand skills courses – and guarantees employment for trainees

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The Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) has announced several new courses in 2020 that it says will radically change the shape of data science education in South Africa. 

Comprising Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics and Machine Learning, each six-month course provides vital digital skills that are in high demand in the market place.  The full time, fully immersive courses each cost R60 000 including VAT. 

The courses are differentiated from any other available by the fact that EDSA has introduced a money back promise if it cannot place the candidate in a job within six months of graduation and at a minimum annual starting salary of R240 000.

“For South Africans with drive and aptitude, this is the perfect opportunity to launch a career in what has been called the sexiest career of the 21stcentury,” says Explore founder Shaun Dippnall.

Dippnall and his team are betting on the explosive demand for data science skills locally and globally.

 “There is a massive supply-demand gap in the area of data science and our universities and colleges are struggling to keep up with the rapid growth and changing nature of specific digital skills being demanded by companies.  

“We are offering specifically a work ready opportunity in a highly skills deficient sector, and one which guarantees employment thereafter.”

The latter is particularly pertinent to young South Africans – a segment which currently faces a 30 percent unemployment rate. 

“If you have skills in either Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics or Machine Learning, you will find work locally, even globally. We’re confident of that,” says Dippnall.

EDSA is part of the larger Explore organisation and has for the past two years offered young people an opportunity to be trained as data scientists and embark on careers in a fast-growing sector of the economy.  

In its first year of operation, EDSA trained 100 learners as data scientists in a fully sponsored, full-time 12-month course.  In year two, this number increased to 400.  

“Because we are connected with hundreds of employers and have an excellent understanding of the skills they need, our current placement rate is over 90 percent of the students we’ve taught,” Dippnall says. “These learners can earn an average of R360 000 annually, hence our offer of your money back if there is no employment at a minimum annual salary of R240k within six months.

“With one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world – recently announced as a national emergency by the President – it is important that institutions teach skills that are in demand and where learners can earn a healthy living afterwards.”

There are qualifying criteria, however. Candidates need to live in close proximity (within one hour commuting distance), or be prepared to live, in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, and need to be between the ages of 18 and 55. 

“Our application process is very tough. We’ll test for aptitude and attitude using the qualifying framework we’ve built over the years. If you’re smart enough, you’ll be accepted,” says Dippnall.

To find out more, visit  http://www.explore-datascience.net.

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Triggerfish launches free digital learning Academy online

Platform designed for anyone wanting to understand more about career opportunities in animation.

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Triggerfish, in partnership with Goethe-Institut and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, has launched Triggerfish Academy, a free digital learning platform for anyone wanting to understand more about the career opportunities and how to get started in the field of animation. 

The website features 25 free video tutorials, quizzes and animation exercises introducing animation as a career and the principles of storytelling, storyboarding and animation, as well as several additional resources to help guide aspiring animators into a career in animation. 

“The South African animation industry is growing – and so is the demand for skilled animators globally,” said Noemie Njangiru, head of Culture and Development at Goethe-Institut Johannesburg, pointing to  the success of recent Triggerfish projects like the Oscar-nominated Revolting Rhymes; Mama K’s Team 4, recently announced by Netflix as their first original animated series from Africa; and this year’s New York Children’s Festival and Shanghai International Film and TV Festival winner Zog.  

Njangiru also highlighted the opportunities for animation outside the traditional film industry, within fields like advertising, app and web design, architecture, engineering, gaming, industrial design, medicine, and the motor industry, not to mention growth sectors like augmented reality and virtual reality

The course was created by Tim Argall, currently the animation director on Triggerfish’s third feature film, Seal Team. He’s roped in many of the South African animation industry’s brightest stars, from Malcolm Wope, character designer on Mama K’s Team 4, and Annike Pienaar, now working at Illumination in Paris on Sing 2, to Daniel Snaddon, co-director of the multi-award-winning BBC adaptations Stick Man and Zog, and Faghrie Coenraad, lead dressing and finaling artist on the Oscar-nominated Revolting Rhymes, as well as Triggerfish head of production Mike Buckland. The featured talent share not just their skills but also their stories, from how they broke the news they wanted to be animators to their parents, to common myths about the animation industry. 

“As kids, animation is part of our lives, so we don’t really think about the idea that animation is actually somebody’s job,” said Argall. “When I was a kid, I loved animation and I loved to draw. I remember when I was about 12, I thought: ‘I really want to see my drawings come to life. I want to be an animator.’ But I had no idea where to even begin.” 

Triggerfish Academy is his attempt to make it easier for the next generation of African animators: an accessible starter kit for anyone considering a career in animation. 

“By the end of working through this course, you’ll have all the background you need to know whether animation is a good choice for your career,” said Njangiru.  

Aspiring animators can also use Triggerfish Academyto learn how to write and animate their own short story, then post their animation on the Academy’s Facebook group for feedback and advice from professional animators. 

Triggerfish Academy is set up so that youth can play with it directly, but it’s also been designed to double as an activity plan for teachers, NGOs and after school programmes to use. Schools, organisations and other animation studios who are interested in using it can contact Triggerfish for additional free classroom resources.

Triggerfish Academy is just one of a number of Triggerfish initiatives to train and diversify the next generation of African animators, like sponsoring bursaries to The Animation School; the Mama K’s Team 4 Writers Lab with Netflix; the pan-African Triggerfish Story Lab, supported by The Walt Disney Company and the Department of Trade and Industry; Animate Africa webinars; Draw For Life; and the Triggerfish Foundation schools outreach programme. For more information, visit www.triggerfish.com/academy.  

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