Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi
A remarkable journalist once said it perfectly. “You are the ones who have let readers down,” he said as he stood up between the thousands of journalists attending the international press conference just like himself. The man accused newspapers of repeatedly stating the obvious in their headlines, creating a kind of lull in a vital and long-standing profession.
He is totally right. The dilemma faced by the journalistic profession stems from journalists’ lack of ability at using modern new media tools to their advantage and their refusal to alter their narrative despite fresh waves of change. Indeed, the media revolution has totally revamped the way the news works.
New media has given the audience a podium, transforming them from listeners into active participants in an interactive arena. It would, however, be unfair to solely blame the media for our current state of affairs since we cannot expect a strong and competitive media to exist without freedom.
Many short-sighted traditionalists have come to view new media as an obstacle rather than an opportunity, a threat to the traditional school of journalism. Yet a major way of overcoming our current dilemma is by taking advantage of the new media era to disseminate novel ideas and information.
We must come to terms with these changes and keep apace of new trends, such as consumerism, which has largely influenced news-reading habits.
In short, new media remains merely a channel for disseminating our message, meaning more emphasis should be placed on developing the content we wish to convey. Critics have declared that it is the Arabic-speaking media’s overindulgence in glorifying government achievement and its lack of professionalism and freedom that has driven the masses to other platforms.
Governments are partly to blame for this phenomenon since they have, indeed, used traditional media outlets to influence nations and spread ideologies that serve their interests and reinforce their presence.
Fortunately, this is no longer the case. The government institution has lost control over the empire of information. People are now part of the team, playing an active role in reporting and analyzing breaking news and developments. Many have achieved fame and fortune, garnering millions of followers and becoming online sensations, while big multi-national companies now pay enormous sums of money to buy air-time and ad space on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
As this revolution unfolded, it left governments confused over how to deal with the new media tide. Many initially came up with muddled, unsuccessful media strategies, while others who tried to look away at first had to eventually follow suit and ride the wave.
Governments began approaching the most common news websites, giving them access to exclusive information in the hope of reaching a broader audience. Governments also eventually began ignoring newspapers, much to the advantage of the digital world. New media led to revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria, severely harming the interests of their long-standing leaders. As a result, new security and intelligence departments were formed to study and analyze rampant topics on these platforms.
Other governments are also attempting to appease the social media crowds by coming up with policies that are in tune with people’s mood. Yet such queues could be deceptive and unrepresentative of people’s real views and needs, particularly since new research suggests that groups, and even countries, manipulate these platforms to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
Nevertheless, new media has pushed the old pillars of journalism to the brink of collapse, not only in our region, but around the globe. This means that we have no choice but to adapt to these changes.
Major media institutions, such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, are increasing their income by introducing subscription fees for readers in a strategy that is now taught at media conferences.
In short, challenges facing traditional media call for advancement and innovation. Many of these outlets have since remained largely stagnant despite feeble efforts at creating online accounts on new media sites. Others regurgitate exactly what is in hard print online, affecting both publications, which should complement and not replicate one another. The problems plaguing the Arab world are not media or technology-related per se, but largely have to do with a repetitive journalistic narrative. The masses have turned to social media in the absence of trust and governments have since fallen hostage to consensus. This is why this revolution should be a gateway for every netizen, without exception, to exercise their freedom and hold accountable anyone who turns this new playing field into yet another arena for political and financial gain.