Digital journalism and media to grow in 2020

Traditional journalism and media will decline in popularity in Africa while the media will increase their online presence to reach their audiences this year.

That is according to seasoned journalist and Code for Kenya country lead Catherine Gicheru and Nelson Mandela University media and communication lecturer Jude Mathurine speaking to frayintermedia.

“Newsrooms are struggling financially. More newsrooms will close down, even in Kenya,” said Gicheru, adding that there will be less print products in circulation.

According to the State of the Newsroom 2018, a Wits Journalism project, “budget cuts and digitisation mean there is an increase in the casualisation of labour and contract work in South Africa”.

Mathurine said this trend will continue this year where media houses will shed senior journalism positions “in favour of temporary contracts and freelance work”.

Despite a shrinking newsroom, Gicheru said media houses will further digitalise for wider reach. Gicheru predicted that media houses will have a bigger online platforms with the introduction of new digital products to reach their audiences.

Africa has a 40% internet penetration as of June, 2019, according to Internet World Stats. “It goes with mobile data getting cheaper and more people owning smartphones,” she said.

As a result, Gicheru said the media will be more active social media, using platforms like Twitter to engage and share content with people.

While Gicheru said there will be more digitised African media, she doubts the continent will see “major” technological advances.

The International Fund For Agricultural Development estimates that 75% of Africans live in the rural areas, where Gicheru said is void of regular access to the internet.

“We forget that even in our own communities, we are not homogeneous. In Africa we are very unique,” she said.

A 2020 journalism and media predictions report released by the Reuters Institute of Journalism and the University of Oxford said 5G will be rolled out worldwide although there will be limited handset availability.

“Ultimately 5G will enable faster and more reliable smartphone connectivity, making it easier to access multimedia content on the go,” the report said.

Mathurine said messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram will become more important for distributing news. However, he said, “User dependence on dark social will continue to exacerbate the space for various forms of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation.”

*Dark media traffic channels include WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram. American journalist Alex C. Madrigal coined the term “Dark Social” which describes the “vast trove of social traffic essentially invisible to most analytics programs” in a 2012 The Atlantic piece.

“In some sub-Saharan Africa countries, greater regulation of OTT messaging services will follow,” Mathurine said.

Another trend Mathurine sees in African media this year is news driven by events and the online era as well as trending issues on social media.

He added that there will be more algorithm driven news, where the data can be sourced from editorial analytics, trending personalities, events or hashtags on social media. “The result is a paucity in contextual reporting and solution-focused news,” Mathurine said.

Gicheru also said more Africans are likely to use data in their work to provide evidence-based reporting.

However, she said access to data in Africa is already difficult that she is doubtful that there is going to be algorithmic journalism formed from it.

“What I hope to see is us engaging with data in our own unique African way,” Gicheru said.

*Dark media channels are distinct from what is known as the Dark Web, which is used largely by criminals and those seeking to trade in illegal goods.

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