Friday, 22 July 2011

The British phone-hacking scandal shows that social media is here to stay

The phone hacking scandal involving the News of the World that rocked Britain couldn’t have been at a more interesting time. It happened at a time when the future of newspaper industry in the UK already looked shaky due to factors ranging from declining readership, loss of advertisement revenue and of course the availability of alternate and more engaging platforms offered by the internet.   

The scandal not only highlighted the reeking state of journalism, but alarmingly exposed the nexus between the press, politicians and the police. The dramatic events that followed after the exposure is well known:  Rupert Murdoch not only announced the closure of the News of the World and withdrew his bid for complete takeover of BSkyB ; the politicians acted swiftly to save their skin and ordered a full judicial enquiry to clean up British journalism.

The press reforms that looms large following the scandal needed attention long time back- not so much for the need to have a tighter control over media, but to ensure that adequate checks and balances are in place to uphold the credibility of journalism. But, what the fall out of the scandal might trigger is a serious consideration by the media bosses to review the business model of  newspapers which has been mercilessly threatened by the internet. 

There is no doubt that the public confidence in the media is seriously undermined, but what has been apparent over the years is people’s preference to consume news over social media and multimedia websites. The death of the News of the World pops up the reality that transformation of the media landscape might be sooner than expected. This, however, does not mean that journalism as a career is coming to end, but what is shows is that media is going through an exciting phase where the engagement with newsmakers, providers and consumers will be intense both at a local and global level.

The recent events in the Middle East have powerfully demonstrated the role of social media in the modern day journalism. It was quite evident how social media or citizen journalism worked together to draw attention to the Arab Spring. It played a pivotal role in gathering, filtering and distributing news by conveniently circumventing the repressive press censorship in countries where protestors took to the street. In many ways, social media acted as an additional tool for journalists. Clearly, news organisations have been swift to embrace social media more seriously. Recently staff at Al Jajeera had to go through intense social media training. CNN iReport, which brings together citizens and reporters on one platform played a great role during the Japanese earthquake .

In terms of business models newspapers have to find a clear balance between old and new, professional and amateur journalism as illustrated by The Huffington Post. The newspaper industry is growing steadily in Asia, particularly in India, where the readership has soared in the last few years with the increased level of literacy.  Many Western newspapers will do well to enter the growing markets to ensure steady stream of revenues.