Why ignoring traditional media would be a mistake

Tuesday, November 28th, 2023 05:00 | By
Journalists covering an event. PHOTO/Print
Journalists covering an event. PHOTO/Print

Former Director for Public Communications in the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Digital Economy Dennis Chebitwey attempted to spiritedly convince me that traditional media have little or no place in institutional communications given the aggressive emergence of the new media.

He argued that with the growth of digital media—the Internet and social media—the newspaper, radio and TV shouldn’t feature in the choice of platforms institutions should engage the public.

I took the argument with a pinch of salt. While institutions cannot ignore the new media altogether, they cannot afford to discard traditional media in any decisions to reach out to its stakeholders, including the editorial leadership of these media.

Communications Authority of Kenya’s sector statistics indicate that the number of active mobile subscriptions in the country stood at 64.9 million as of September 30.

It is tempting to buy Chebitwey’s thesis that the government and the private sector should engage their stakeholders through the internet and social media given the penetration levels of smartphones.

New media is an alternative source of information, education and entertainment for many people. But it cannot supplant the newspaper, radio and television.

This is why. There are important elements of news or content that attract audiences. Some of the elements are the credibility or reputation of the channel through which the messaging is done.

Traditional media has the advantage of being well-established. The ownership is known. The writers are known. News anchors are known. They also have a wide reach.

Traditional media have more credibility than new media.

The public may get news about an important development first through social media. But turn to traditional media for confirmation or corroboration. Why? Because of credibility questions.

Citizens don’t believe something until traditional media reports it, or is confirmed by a person in an institution being reported.

Part of the work Public Relations people do is either to confirm or discount the legitimacy of information on social media whenever social media breaks it first.

Moreover, institutional journalism is good citizenship. Even if critical of public policy, traditional media institutions exercise it with a level of social responsibility which is rare on social media.

The sources of information in traditional media are often known and acknowledged. The basic 5Ws and H—what, who, why, when, where and how—that govern news reporting are present in traditional media outlets. Not so the new media.

Publicizing an organisation in a traditional media platform is a sort of third party endorsement of what an organisation has done. Overall, both publicity and PR focus on earned, unpaid communications. Publicity on social media, particularly owned by the organisation may be good publicity but lacks the lustre associated with the same information on an established media platform.

It amounts to blowing one’s trumpet. In certain respects, not exactly. Social media is an important platform for making announcements of important decisions or happenings in an organisation, particularly where the information needs to be disseminated with speed.

The point, however is that, third party endorsement is more productive than blowing one’s own trumpet. It enables an organisation to know whether it is working for and well with its stakeholders. If not, it forces an institution to find out why and make appropriate adjustments or consultations if not well understood.

New media has expanded space for communication. It is faster, more agile and interactive. Policymakers and opinion leaders can leverage on them to have a more authentic engagement with stakeholders than they have under traditional media.

By depending on social media for communication, an organisation can end up insulating itself from interacting with the rest of the world. The traditional media is a kind of mirror. Through it, we see what the world beyond us is thinking.

That is the advantage of traditional media. It takes the whole universe as a whole and reports on issues in it. Unlike new media which is selective.

Honesty requires us to acknowledge that, in the long term, newspapers will exist online.

The online news by established media will carry with them credibility and responsibility we have known for years.

- The writer is Communications Officer, Ministry of Education

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