Personal publishing has changed the way magazines approach journalism

The magazine industry is gradually waking up to the fact that disseminating information is no longer the exclusive preserve of the mainstream media

Casmir Igbokwe

“I’m a digital immigrant. I wasn’t weaned on the web, nor coddled on a computer. Instead, I grew up in a highly centralised world where news and information were tightly controlled by a few editors, who deemed to tell us what we could and should know. My two young daughters, on the other hand, will be digital natives. They’ll never know a world without ubiquitous broadband internet access.”

Media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, in the above excerpts from a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in
Washington in 2005, captured the emerging trend in the approach to journalism in the world. Today, almost everybody can publish news. After the 7 July 2005 bombings in London, many people took pictures of the tragedy with their mobile phones. They posted them on the web even before the traditional media.

Similarly, it was a weblog that first published the remarks of the former chief news executive of the CNN, Eason Jordan, that American forces had deliberately targeted and killed journalists during the war in Iraq. Jordan, who reportedly made the statement in an off-the-record briefing at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, consequently resigned.  Blogs were also credited with the revelation that a Kryptonite bicycle lock could be unlocked with a Bic pen.

The BBC quoted the Director of the Media Centre in the US, Mr. Andrew Nachison, as saying, “The notion of a gatekeeper who filters and decides what’s acceptable for public consumption and what isn’t, that’s gone forever. With people now walking around with information devices in their pockets, like camera or video phones, we are going to see more instances of ordinary citizens breaking stories.”

The upsurge in the growth of blogs brings this assertion home. A US-based search engine, Technorati, was reported to have put the number of new blogs that springs up everyday at 175, 000. The total number as at November last year is said to be 60m. Eighteen updates are made on these online diaries every second.

Some of these bloggers also challenge the mainstream media in terms of generating adverts. THE INDEPENDENT reported in November last year that bloggers, especially those offering tidbits about scandals in high places, boasted more readers than many British national publications. This, the paper said, meant more attention from advertisers.

The result of this is that magazines are increasingly losing their hold on their readers. As Murdoch put it, “What is happening is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They don’t want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don’t want to rely on a God-like figure from above to tell them what’s important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly don’t want news presented as gospel.”Expectedly, some media practitioners are a bit worried about this trend. And they are looking for solutions. Today, many media organisations have gone online. Some also offer blogs or pseudo-blogs. A publication like The Guardian has a web first policy. This, it explains, means it will publish foreign and business stories on the website prior to them going in the paper.

In this new trend of publishing, speed matters. Most magazines no longer wait till the following day or week as the case may be to publish their news. They regularly update their news because the more time a magazine wastes, the more the news becomes stale and the more the publication falls into irrelevance.

Besides, some media outlets offer diversity of delivery techniques. For instance, readers of the Observer (the magazine section of The Guardian), and other Guardian publications could download latest stories on a 10-page pdf, updated every 15 minutes both during the day and in the night. This pdf comes in five forms: Top stories, World, Media, Business and Sport. All these come free.

So far, the mainstream media is not recouping much of its investment on the Internet. At present, a few are making little money from small adverts. Some others such as The Economist charge non-subscribers who wish to access its archives.

But the major concern now is to attract and control traffic on the web. That is why The Guardian could afford to employ about 60 editorial staff for its website alone. The hope is in the reported statement of the Microsoft President, Bill Gates, that within the next few years, the Internet would attract $30 billion in advertising revenue annually. 

Consequently, magazines now give their readers more platforms to air their views and stay connected. Hitherto, a few readers got published on the letters page. The privileged few had their opinions published on the opinion page. Today, some publications encourage their readers to send in their own news, picture stories and comments on political, cultural, environmental and sundry issues.

Some news outlets have also introduced RSS feeds, desktop alerts and news delivered to people’s e-mails and mobile phones. They also offer relevant links where readers could visit for more insight into particular news of interest.

Some of the media organisations have also gone beyond just posting news on the web. They are now podcasting as well. The challenge for journalists is that in no distant time, they may have to move about not only with pen and paper, but also with still and video cameras as well as mini recorders.

Murdoch sums up the issue thus, “Some newspapers will invest sufficient resources to continuously update the news, because digital natives don’t just check the news in the morning – they check it throughout the day. If my child played a little league baseball game in the morning, it would be great to be able access the paper’s website in the afternoon to get a summary of her game, maybe even accompanied by video highlights.” 



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