Monday, August 17, 2015

Future of News: Beyond news applications, what products can newsrooms offer?

All over the world, most newsrooms are now making use of new digital technologies in all facets of their work.
The degree of application varies across board.
However, without technology these days, news production and distribution is nearly impossible. According to Wired, robots will in the future, not only write news but also produce and recommend news pieces directly; responding to preferences of individual users.
Currently, Associated Press (AP), using algorithms and natural language generation based technology, is able to produce a limited auto-generated articles and news stories in plain-language narrative from easily interpretable data.
AP now produces nearly 4,300 quarterly earnings stories - a 14-fold increase over human generated efforts. The interesting fact about these stories is that you can't tell the difference between robot journalists output and what a human has written, except an explanatory note is added to the story that it was machine generated.
AP's huge step in deploying this technology means they have a tangible product which can provide them with a competitive edge in the future.
News Apps and Products
Beyond churning out of news, newsrooms can now produce content with value added, news applications and news products.
In classification of apps, we can have 3 types; namely, native apps running on desktops, online apps and mobile apps.
Generally there are three types of mobile apps namely utility apps which provide relevant information such as stock market prices, traffic, sports results, weather etc.; productivity apps are usually more complex focusing on monitoring, updating and producing content, this include social media such Facebook, twitter, etc. and lastly immersive apps which focus solely on content such video games, super interactive apps like video-editing apps, etc.
News app is, simply put, an application which enable users to consume, interact, contribute, interrogate and critique news content often on demand. Whereas news products is more tangible, long lasting applications provide more lasting utility to the end users extending news cycle by giving news longer life. 
One exciting area when looking at new digital technologies in the newsroom is data journalism, since it enables newsrooms to produce value added content and support the development of news applications and products. Data journalism is a journalism specialty reflecting the increasingly important role that numerical data is playing in story production and distribution in the digital age. It reflects the increased interaction between content producers (journalist) and several other fields such as design, mathematics, computer science and statistics. Data journalism can help journalists find truth from publicly available data for public interest, find and write stories from huge amount of data derived from multiple sources including governments, write most compelling stories more quickly and facilitate the telling of complex story through engaging visualisation.
Where can I get the cheapest Petrol?
Ghana recently liberalised its downstream petroleum industry which means that each oil marketing company is able to set its prices at the pump based on given parameters. News media carried this story, with some providing in-depth analysis, info on where to get the best deal.
However, this news piece across radio, TV and newspapers will last not more than one week. For newsroom to be relevant, they need to develop products beyond this news piece. In this direction, they can develop a news application (apps) which can be downloaded by their audiences.
This news app will solve this problem of where to get the cheapest petrol at the pump. For example, I am driving in Kumasi with a need to fill my tank. By using this product, I can find out which petrol stations is offering the cheapest fuel.
More importantly, since my location service is on, the app will calculate and provide me with real time information; given traffic situation and how long it will take me to get to the station. Based on this app, I am able to determine where to get cheapest petrol given a number of options in real time.
This example buttresses the notion that news articles are great but in an information rich society with a lot of audiences' demand always on content, creating news products with an extended life span can contribute to sustainability of the newsroom. There are thousand and one opportunities in this direction for newsrooms.
MTN Ghana could be the next biggest news organisation
News media market place is shrinking. To survive, news organisation must invest in understanding emerging new digital technologies especially how to leverage its growing opportunities to sustain their audience base and grow new ones. Journalism ecosystem, influence and its place in society is continuing to shrink.
For example, Google is now World's largest aggregator and distributor of digital content; not only audio and video information but also news. Implications of these development is profound with one stark warning that, if news organisations do not innovate with new apps and products others innovators will come in. Ghana's leading telecom provider MTN, could become tomorrow's largest news organization because they have the platform and especially when news organisations are sitting idle instead of rising up to the occasion.
High quality journalism demands innovators
 For a long time players in the Media sector have assumed a thin god status with the mindset of not caring about what their audiences want, effectively pushing audiences' needs to the back rooms. Today, consumers are now in the driving seat, demanding more than news.
Newsrooms that are to staying alive, influential, profitable and competitive are therefore the ones able to combine experimentation spiced with pragmatism in their quest to meet insatiable appetite of today's news consumer.


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Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program


Dedicated to international exchange, the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program offers five-month fellowships to leading democracy activists, journalists, and scholars from around the world.  During their time in residence at NED's International Forum for Democratic Studies, fellows reflect on their experiences and consider lessons learned; conduct independent research and writing; engage with colleagues and counterparts in the United States; and build ties with a global network of democracy advocates.
The program is intended primarily to support practitioners and scholars from developing and aspiring democracies; distinguished scholars from established democracies are also eligible to apply.  Projects may focus on the political, social, economic, legal, and cultural aspects of democratic development and may include a range of methodologies and approaches.  Fellows work full-time on their projects and receive a monthly fellowship payment, health insurance, travel assistance, and research support. The program does not fund professional training, fieldwork, or students pursuing a degree.  A working knowledge of English is required. Learn More. 

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October 15, 2015

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Thursday, August 06, 2015

Future of news blog: Death of newspaper - Myth or Reality?

 Kwami Ahiabenu II 

Date: 05-08-2015

Across the globe, owners, managers and editors are kept awake over the uncertain future of their industry. 
Some analysts paint a gloomy picture of the newspaper industry, saying it will end up in the grave yard; pushed to an early death by a number of factors which includes access to “free news” online and inherently very reduced hardcopy sales.
Newspapers were born in 59 B.C. when Acta Diurna was published in Rome. Since then, there is ample evidence about the significant role they play in our societies generally and as a pillar of democracy in particular. In recent times, there is a major revolution in the media landscape fueled largely by the widespread and ubiquitous availability of new digital technologies. Currently over 50% of the world’s total population are unique mobile phone users sending over 8.7 trillion SMS messages annually with other applications such as WhatsApp, which is very popular in Ghana, recording over 50 billion messages daily culminating in an annual total of 18.3 trillion messages exchanged. A figure that far surpasses traditional SMS.
All these new developments have no doubt shaken the very foundation of newspapers, leading to a moot question: are newspapers going to die?
In many parts of the world newspapers sales are really starting to record a decline due to a number of reasons; the rise of the electronic media, declining revenue due to loss of advertising, stiff competition from online outlets, increasing costs of production especially cost of newsprint, high costs of distribution, rapid fall in circulation, advent of new digital technologies which are making newspapers obsolete in their present format.
In Ghana though newspapers are not declining, they are not experiencing any major growth or expansion. There is no empirical data to support this assertion, however anecdotal evidence point to the fact that over time newspapers in Ghana have not grown in terms of new entrants to the market nor have existing ones undertaken any major expansion. Simply put no body is rushing to set up a newspaper in Ghana these days, the movement is towards establishment of radio or TV stations.
In a recent count, there are a little over 40 active newspapers in Ghana today. Most of them weekly, with specialised ones focusing on issues such as business, sports and lifestyle etc. There is no mainstream Sunday newspaper though a number of papers come out on Saturdays. Over all readership rates and subscriptions are drastically plummeting in Ghana not only due to the fact that audiences can get news for free from online sources but also because content from newspapers are distributed by radio and TV as well. 
One important factor ensuring that newspaper stand the test of time is that they have significant brand value, which means that when they move their products online, they record significant online followings. One will argue that in Ghana, lack of reliable internet access coupled with an entrenched culture of doing things non-electronically means, newspapers are still a preferred news source. An interesting challenge for the health of newspapers, does not only come from new digital technologies but from the plain old radio.  The rapid development of radio stations cannot be discounted in the discourse about the survival of newspapers since they are eroding its influence. Newspapers beyond their news value, are also an important information source for happenings in the society including advertisement of goods and services which audiences consider valuable, therefore for some time to come in Ghana, newspapers are going to continue to be relevant.
Furthermore, journalists and their newspapers carry some amount of weight in terms of credibility and authority, therefore unless a tangible replacement is found, newspapers are not going to die overnight.
Revenue from newspapers both in terms of circulations and advertising are dropping. Largely being eaten into by new forms of online news distribution. Moreover, some advertisers do not see the value of putting ads in the newspapers since they have other channels of pushing out their brands. Future generation especially the youth simply do not see newspapers as news source, they will not buy a copy, let alone read one online since they consume news from social media outlets.
According to Pew Research Centre (  in USA, ad revenues continued to fall but gains in digital ad revenue are failing to make up for falls in print ad revenue. This is an important warning sign for newspapers they cannot expect to recoup shortfalls in ad revenue by simply migrating online since there is no guarantee setting up an online news channel will perform in terms of revenue inflows.
Formerly a typical news reader will have to wait for the newspaper to be delivered in order for them to access news, currently there are a thousand and one online news sources, simply put, you do not need a newspaper to read the news, you can consume news via tablets, phones, computers or some other devices. Journalists typically are not expected to be experts on subject matter they write about but their key ability to serve as middlemen by speaking to experts and relaying it to their audiences, however, due to growth in online information, users can directly access such experts without journalists mediating. Therefore newspapers in their traditional role as key middleman is now being eroded rapidly. Nonetheless one can still argue that newspapers can transform to play a curation role where they connect consumers to as many direct news sources as possible directly playing minimum middleman.
To survive, newspapers must undertake a significant transformation by not only publishing online but generating online news products which their audiences are hungry for. Newspapers must stop burying their heads in the sand, since the dire question becomes 'when will newspaper die' not ' if newspapers will die' looms.
However, there are some strategies that newspaper can pursue in order to arrest this development while at the same time working to become relevant, sustainable and profitable. A good start is to let go age old tested newspaper traditions which are still very critical their operations and plot a new path of change.  This can be accomplished by putting in place written change strategies, which must be discussed with all newsroom members in order to ensure their buy-in and smooth implementation. Such strategy should focus on what needs to be changed, how the change process will be rolled out and mitigation of change fallout. News room culture, roles and responsibilities of each member, for example, journalists who were traditionally writing for newspaper, now have to learn to become multimedia journalists with different skills set.
Newspapers have to learn new story telling techniques which can ensure the content they serve invariably to their online audience reflect what their audiences want, and in the manner they want to consume it. Monetisation of content online and across new digital channels of distribution is critical, this calls for deployment of new mechanisms of revenue generation by driving to market high value online content and apps centered on mobile phone users who are growing by the day.