Media development in 2010: Trends and hopes

The Ashoka News & Knowledge Fellowship blog currently features an article I wrote on media trends over 2010. Predictions are often caught between self-fulfilling prophecy and subjective fallacy, but are useful foundations nevertheless to anchor ideas that complement or contradict.

My own approach to Ashoka’s questions was to frame them in the context of my own work with new media in Sri Lanka during, and now after war. There are enduring challenges and lessons here, some of which I’ve flagged in my Ashoka piece. My earlier writing on this blog, Journalism of the future? Problems and challenges and “Mass audiences” and citizen journalism explore some of these issues in greater detail.

The text of the submission to Ashoka based on their questions follows.

What changes will 2010 bring?
The line between “new” and “traditional” media will continue to blur. Traditional media will use citizens in their reporting. Citizens will use the web, Internet and mobiles in their own reporting. Both will compete, and increasingly complement each other. Technologies such as natural language processing, semantic analysis, pattern matching and semiotics on the web will be used to make sense from a growing river of information, little of which will be impartial or accurate.  A slow news movement, involving contextualization, reflection and curation, will emerge as a countervailing thrust to the heady pace of instant news feeds.

We will lose friends and colleagues to violence in 2010. Some of us will be killed or imprisoned, or called terrorists and forced to leave the home and country we love first, and the most. All of us will use our own media to tell our stories, competing with the narratives of others. The best narratives we consume, remember, and compel us to act will be those that inspire us, showcase resilience, simple acts of defiance and courage and even of violence against injustice. Print journalists will learn that voice, photo, video and innovative visualizations of complex problems strengthen a story. All journalists will realize that to sustain empathy in protracted conflict, to communicate the horror of a pogrom or genocide, to influence progressive policy and strengthen aid, stories need to be personal, compelling and inspire hope.

Compelling stories will emerge from places without TV, radio, electricity, water, drainage, sanitation or permanent shelters but with mobile phones. Illiterate peoples will tell us their stories. We will inhabit a world where everyone — whether they are citizens or nomads, stateless, IDPs or refugees — will be addressable through a mobile number. We will witness more people than any time in history inter-connected through a web controlled by the parochialism of governments, terrorists and commercial interests. Ergo, though we will see increasing threats to the neutrality of the Internet as a medium, everyone on the web will contest this control. Yet social change-makers in all domains will find opportunities for change and hope through technologies unimaginable even a few years ago.

All journalists will encounter tools, platforms, services and new paradigms in media generation, dissemination and consumption that they will ignore to their own peril. 2010 will be a year we stop calling new media, new media. We will simply use a range of media through a host of devices, for little or no cost, to challenge impunity and strengthen democracy, human rights and human dignity. Most of us will fail in this task. A few will succeed, and inspire others to follow suit. This is our challenge as social change-makers in the coming year — to live in hope, and risk disappointment.

What will you make happen in 2010?
I will pit the media I generate and inspire against media both unprofessional and partisan. I will seek to demonstrate by example that progressive, citizen-centric media on the web can, even during violence and war, interrogate and highlight issues vital to democracy and peace. I may fail, but through such failures, I will learn vital lessons to share with others.

I will re-launch Groundviews. It will better reflect our diversity of voices and content and our growing interest in using photography, semantic visualizations and video to tell compelling stories.

I will hold traditional media accountable for their bias, partisanship and lapses in professional journalism. I will help traditional media leverage new technologies to strengthen their journalism. I will work with human rights and media freedom defenders to help them use new technologies to bear witness and at the same time, alert them to the many ways in which technology is used to monitor and curtail their work.

Most importantly, I will continue to work and live in Sri Lanka, a country coming out of war that is still very distant from a just and sustainable peace. My work will focus on the meaningful application of technology to strengthen democracy, justice and human rights. Through this work, and sober reflection on the challenges to peacebuilding post-war, I hope to inspire conversations, content and action that will help my country heal, remember, seek justice, forgive, hold accountable those who violate human rights and envision a peace more meaningful than the mere absence of war.

What changes do you hope to see by the end of the coming decade?
Acknowledging that all peoples are no longer passive recipients and consumers of information. This is a paradigm shift from a decade ago, and largely undergirded by developments in telecommunications technologies. Though the spectre of cyber-wars is no longer limited to the domain of science fiction, new technologies widely available for free or little cost can and must be leveraged by social change-makers to bear witness and strengthen democracy. This is a challenge increasingly difficult, for these technologies will also be used widely for hate and harm. Yet what I hope to see at the end of the decade is that peoples, now able to tell their own stories even if they are illiterate, destitute, internally displaced or refugees, will name and shame perpetrators of violence as well as those who did nothing to stop it. Technology can be a great leveller, and we must ensure it is used to strengthen democracy, for increasingly the enjoyment of our fundamental human rights rests on it. I hope that by the end of the decade, this vital realisation will find expression in constitutions, policies and practices of governments, initiatives of civil society and the ethics of business and journalism.

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