Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Future of News in my Community

 I live and work on the Lagos Island, a community that is webbed in on all sides by an overflowing lagoon and a raging Atlantic ocean, all in Lagos state, the former capital of Nigeria and the country’s commercial nerve centre. From my daily interface with the community and my professional experience as a Journalist, it is deducible that the future of news in my community is telephony.

Lagos is, by most estimates, one of the fastest-growing cities in the world as it is currently experiencing a population increase of about 275,000 persons per annum. In 1999 the United Nations predicted that the city's metropolitan area, which had only about 290,000 inhabitants in 1950, would exceed 20 million by 2010 and thus become one of the ten most populated cities in the world. 

Further statistics reveal that with 3, in size and a population figure of 19, 292,522 (as at 2009) in Lagos, there is a huge spectrum of wealth distribution among the people that reside in Lagos. It ranges from the very wealthy to the very poor. Lagos has attracted and continues to attract many young people and families seeking a better life from all parts of Nigeria and beyond. In this cosmopolitan milieu, the imperatives of communication cannot be oversimplified hence information dissemination remains a huge and thriving aspect of daily existence in the state.

Currently, all the forms of traditional and new media technologies are present and rapidly expanding at amazing levels in my community what with the sustained influence of broadcast media (Radio and Television) print media (newspapers and magazines), and the burgeoning effect new media (social networks, blogging, etc). It is prudent to note that the increasing relevance of these forms of media in my community is not unconnected with the age-long need for information on developments around the world and most especially around our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and heterogeneous community. It is also linked with the current population explosion in my community, which limits access to basic essentials of life, hence the daily, hectic struggle for what to eat, where to sleep, what to wear, what to drive, where to drive, and what social amenities are available. 

These and many more all sums up the “rat race” that life in my community typifies. It is in the midst of this mad scramble for subsistence that the demand for information on-the-go becomes irresistible as the population requires constant updates on the weather, climatic changes, security situation, traffic analysis, governmental actions/inactions, and general emergencies as these updates go a long way in determining a corresponding course of action from the populace.

To effectively meet the aforementioned demand on news from over 15 million people in Lagos, Magazines, social media, morning and evening newspapers, radio, TV stations deploy massive investments in telecommunications in order to expand their scope of acceptance and coverage. Media outfits in my community achieve nearly unrestricted access to the people through the use of mobile systems of telecommunication like automatic calls, bulk SMS, blackberry messaging and provision of toll-free lines. Through automatic call systems, media Organisations convey breaking-news to their registered audience by placing direct calls at no costs to the receivers or provision of a special mobile telephone number in which their audience can call-in at affordable rates to access their broadcasts and programmes. 

Another strategy is the bulk SMS and blackberry messaging services, which convey updates to the end users in real time and carries the prospect of being mass-forwarded to their friends and relatives. Also toll-free lines are advertised for media consumers to call-in and contribute their views to developments within the community. The toll-free lines also enable the consumer to provide citizen-journalism services (photos and breaking news) to the media outfit in times of emergency developments. Besides, many mobile phones now come with radio-enabled facilities which further creates wider access to news by millions of mobile phone users in my community who simply tune to their favourite radio stations while going about their normal chores. 

In this group falls the owners of cars with radio facilities who tune to their favourite radio station while driving or stuck in a traffic gridlock and then uses the same phone to call or text the media outfit on the traffic situation in his present location. Such live traffic updates have become the highest selling points for news agencies in my community as everyone relies on traffic updates to plan daily movements thereby avoiding areas with huge traffic congestion when necessary.

With eyes on the future, there is no gainsaying the indispensability of telephony in the news of tomorrow as endless possibilities for prolific synergies between news and telecommunications continue to evolve. A further amplification of this wavelength of reasoning can be acknowledged in the social economy of my community which basks unabashedly in widespread poverty, gaping absence of social amenities characterised by lack of purchasing power, exposure to risk, malnutrition, high mortality rate, low life expectancy, insufficient access to social opportunities for income generation. Futuristic news solutions must therefore not only be powered by the economies of scale but must also be oiled on the wheels of accessible affordability which only telephony-based news service provides. 

The clear absence of energy and probable inadequate energy solutions in the future will ultimately render ineffective and obsolete, any news service that is not telephony-friendly as economic decisions of the majority will always continue to push the frontiers of news even in the next millennium. It is also a fact incontrovertible that many telephony services require less outlay to maintain functionality and reach a wider audience while others require extensive considerations to achieve even a lesser impact.

Thus welcome to the future of news…welcome to telephony.

Atayi Babs
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