Understanding New Media in the Newsgathering and Reporting Process

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Published on International Journal of Informatics, Technology & Computers
Publication Date: May 28, 2019

Edmund Chukwuma Onwuliri

Faculty of Arts, University of Abuja
FCT Nigeria

Journal Full Text PDF: Understanding New Media in the Newsgathering and Reporting Process.

The new media or social media means different things to different people. This essay attempts to present the new media as a phenomenon that can be better understood from the analogy of the aboriginal concepts of transportation and communication as advanced by Vin Crosbie, in relationship to the traditional media. Attention is paid to the continually evolving phenomenon of new media to the extent that its current forms and patterns may not suffice in attempting a sustainable definition. The paper links the “Crosbie Analogy” to the adequate understanding of the three levels of communication- Interpersonal, Mass and New media communications with the aboriginal concepts of land, Water and Air (Sky.) The advantages and disadvantages of New Media in newsgathering and reporting are also discussed. The paper concludes that the new media just like air transportation provided the technology to facilitate the movement of persons and others things across diverse locations, has enhanced communication among many people and groups most inclusively and interactively.

Keywords: New Media, Internet Technology, Newsgathering, News Reporting.

1. Introduction
All types of media, as they are known today, were new at some point. From the emergence of printing as the first step in mass media to the invention of the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, television and most recently, the introduction of the internet technology, each new media technology was regarded as a new media. Mbachu, (2003 p.15) affirms the role technology has played in the evolution of the mass media globally thus:
Mass communication has always required technology to broaden its reach and expand its influence. From the primitive to the modern societies, the story of mass communication has been that of changes wrought by improvements in technology. The development of printing was a critical turning point in producing information or communication meant for mass audiences. However, each incremental progress that followed through technological advancement- whether in print, telecommunication, wireless communication, transportation, photography, broadcasting or computing – were additional boosts to the reach and effectiveness of mass communication.
It is therefore essential to note that technology has been very instrumental in changing the nature, reach and effectiveness of mass communication. The various watersheds in the development of mass communication are traceable to advancements in technology. Each stage of evolution throws up a unique feature that is fresh and therefore, considered new. The emergence of the broadcast media between the 1920s and 1930s was a new form of media from what the world was used to before then. The current epoch, as driven by the internet, is equally a new form of mass media. Therefore, depending on the era one is interrogating, any new form/genre of the mass media may be considered a new media. According to Brian Neese (2016. P. 1) “older forms of media, such as radio, television and vinyl records, were once new”.

2. New Media Defined
Over time, media practitioners, media watchers and the general public tend to use the term New Media and Social Media interchangeably. Often, the term “New Media” is used to describe the “Social Media” while Social Media is used to describe the New Media as a mass communication phenomenon equally. Lev Manovich (2001 p. 26) described the new media as being inherent to computers or depending on them for the distribution of content on websites, human-computer interface, virtual worlds, virtual reality, multimedia, computer games, computer animation, digital video, special effects in films and interactive computer installations. Robert Logan, as cited in Brian Neese, (2016) supports this position by defining the New Media as those digital media that are interactive and incorporate two-way communication and involve some form of computing. So far, the attempt to understand the new media has tilted heavily towards computers and technology. According to Flew, (2002 ) the concept of new media captures both the evolution of exclusive models of digital media and the resetting of more traditional media formats to adopt and adapt to the new media technologies. This view is further underscored by Barnabas, (2017) who asserts that this trend accounts for the reliance on computers, smartphones, tablets and other devices instead of the previous analogue means of information gathering and dissemination. Ogidi and Utulu (2016 p.57) corroborate this assertion by describing the New Media as the growing media that is widely used by all and sundry. It can also be referred to as on-demand access to content anytime, anywhere, and on any digital device such as smartphones, computers, among others. It ranges from social media (Facebook, Twitter, We-chat, WhatsApp, BBM, Blogs, etc.) to other Internet-enabled devices such as Wikipedia, YouTube, to mention but a few.

3. The Crosbie Analogy
However, Vin Crosbie, (1998) in a down to earth approach, attempted to establish a clear definition of the concept of the New Media using the analogy between Communication and Transportation Media. He stated that the misunderstanding of what the new media is, arises from confusing a medium with its vehicles. According to him, a few people understand the new media simply because what most people think are media are only vehicles inside a medium. He submits that magazines are not media; neither can a magazine be classified as a medium. He argues further that television is not a medium while neither television nor radio stations cannot pass for media. In other words, devices that are internet enabled, the World Wide Web itself and even the internet are not media but are only vehicles for disseminating content within the communication space. To fully understand the difference between a communications vehicle and a communications medium, one merely needs to comprehend how the terms “medium”, “media” and “vehicles” are correctly used when discussing transportation.
In the same vein, he goes further to explain that the Communications and Transportation analogy concept exists around Land, Water and Air (Sky) on the one hand as well as Interpersonal, Mass and New Media communications on the other hand.

4. Land
Regarding land, Crosbie opines that it is the aboriginal transportation medium which humans have used from time immemorial but have developed other vehicles to help convey man within the medium (land) such as carts, chariots, carriages, bicycles, trains, automobiles etc. Water
Water is the second transport medium which man also has exploited for his good all through civilisation and had also over time developed vehicles such rafts, barges ships and submarines for use within the water medium of transportation.
Some similarities run through the activities of man within the first two media so far discussed. It is essential to state that before the emergence of technology, the man was making effective use of land and water without the aid of technology. The vehicles that are in use on land and sea have only improved man’s speed and carrying capacity while using land or water as a medium of transportation. It is also observable that each of the vehicles being used on either land or water is limited by land or water. A train is not useful on the water while a ship will be ineffective on the ground. In other words, land and water have mutually exclusive transportation characteristics and reaches as well as mutually exclusive advantages and disadvantages. To that extent, the choice of using any of them will be determined by these mutually exclusive characteristics vis-a-viz location and carrying capacity.

5. Air
Crosbie asserts that the third transportation medium- Air, has eliminated the limitations of mutual exclusivity of land and water media of transportation. From the genesis of the Air or Sky media, technology has been the basis for its existence. All the vehicles such as gliders, hot air balloons, helicopters, planes and even spaceships are 100% technology driven and dependent. In relating the above argument to mass communication, Crosbie submits that there are three communications media in existence, namely:

6. Interpersonal Medium
Interpersonal medium (Aboriginal like land transportation) which is primarily characterised by the equal and reciprocal control of the content conveyed. Also, the material can be individualised to cater to specific needs and interests. However, it also possesses its inherent disadvantages, just like land transportation media. The problem of similar control and individualisation of content hinders the involvement of more than two parties in the communication process. For instance, it will be challenging to hold a meaningful conversation with more than one person at a time. This unusual feature of the interpersonal format makes it only useful for two persons, and that trend is probably the reason why it is generally referred to by communications experts as the one-to-one medium. In its original state, technology was not needed, but over time technological advancements improved its reach and speed in the form of postal letters, telephone calls and electronic mails.

7. Mass Medium
This is the second communications medium as captured in Crosbie’s argument. He stated that the mass medium also predated technology in the sense that aboriginal societies had Kings, Chiefs, and Priests, who would address people collectively. The circulation of written/printed information in the form of edicts among others was commonly used, thereby facilitating a form of communication that was more inclusive than the interpersonal. Technology was to further introduce commercial/mass printing and broadcasting to this medium with the unique characteristics of the ability to send the same content to many recipients, giving the sender absolute control over the content. It is also characterised by the disadvantage of not being capable of individualising content to each recipient’s unique needs and interest and also allows him no form of control over the content.
Just like in the case of the land and water models, the interpersonal and mass media, there exists two mutually exclusive media with mutually exclusive vehicles. Whereas the Interpersonal medium can deliver an individualised message, it is only to one recipient at a time. However, the mass medium can send messages to an infinite number of persons at once but lacks the power to individualise the content. On the other hand, the Interpersonal medium allows each person with absolute control over the content; the mass medium provides control over the content by only one person. From the previous once again, there are clear, mutually exclusive advantages and disadvantages inherent in the two media. As was previously discussed, what the air transportation media took care of in transportation, the new media appears to be set to do in mass communication thereby justifying Crosbie’s use of the concept in trying to explain the phenomenon of the New Media.

8. New Media
The New Media evolved just like the air (Sky) media through the convergence of the many vehicles (technologies) that function within the Interpersonal and Mass Media. In other words, the New Media entirely evolved as a result of technologies and carry the combined advantages of the two previous media. Without technology, the media cannot function. It has the attributes of one-to-one individualised content structure which can be entirely controlled by one person as well the capacity to send messages to an infinite number of persons at the same time and also giving them all the opportunity to participate actively in the communication process which Crosbie, calls the “many-to-many” system. In other words, interactivity in the communication process is a dominant feature of the New Media.

9. Types of New Media
Five types of New Media generally are in use currently. Brain Neese (2016) identifies them as Blogs, Virtual Realities, Social Media, Online Newspapers and Digital Games.
Blogs seemed to have heralded the new media but are still relevant today as they have kept their similarities with other recent new media platforms. Blogs contain posts that are categorised from which users can navigate the posts by specific category through searches, tags e.t.c. They are interactive and also include mixed media such as pictures, videos and other materials. Virtual Reality is one of the recent new media technologies that allow users to experience simulations of the environment along with the user’s physical presence as well as sensory experience using a special headset or a computer. Social Media, on the other hand, focuses on the creation, sharing and exchanging of information, ideas and content through online networks and communities. Social media is characterised by highly interactive platforms and commands the highest user population of the New Media. According to internetworldstats.com, Facebook, a popular social media platform, control over sixteen million subscriber base in Nigeria as at the end of March 2017, which represents 8% of the Nigerian population. Others platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp, Viber and others command reasonable subscriber base too and are used for intense social interactions.
Online Newspapers are considered New Media, just like blogs. They combine many media which can easily be searched and accessed with user interaction interface features. This development in itself is one reason traditional newspapers are migrating to the use of the new media for the benefit of their business. According to Pew Research Center, American Newspapers experienced a drop in advert revenue from $44.9 billion to $16.4 billion in 2014 while digital advert revenue increased to $3.5 billion in 2014 from $1.2 billion in 2003 (Neese 2016). Digital Games are also interactive components of the new media which have become a significant digital media culture the world over.
With the changing trends in technology, perhaps the definition(s) of the New Media and Social Media will continue to change due to the continuous development and addition of new forms. Miller, Costa, et – al (2016 p. 18) submit that it is limiting to attempt to define social media based only on types that currently exist. They posit that for a sustainable definition and approach to be arrived at, attention must be given to the “new social media platforms” that are continually evolving, and the likelihood that some will become very successful in the future. Therefore, over time, more defining innovations may be added to the already existing tools in use in the New Media space that will continue to shape the way the world communicates.

10. Advantages to Newsgathering and Reporting
The New media has had a significant impact on the practice of mass communication in Nigeria being a form of the mass media itself. Onah, & Nche, (2014), agree that the New media through the social media has had a tremendous impact on the forms and patterns of communication in Nigeria especially with the introduction of interactive platforms which were not provided by the traditional media before now. Citing Lenhart et al. (2010), they assert that about two-thirds representing (63%) of all adolescents are actively engaged at least once a day in one online activity or the other. Similarly, for youths who are active online, the use of social media ranks as highly as 73% on such social networking site as Facebook or MySpace. 38% of such users share content online such as photos, videos or artwork, while 14% of the users’ blog. Furthermore, three-quarters (75%) of all teens have a cell phone, with 88% using them to send and receive text messages, with about 64% of same deploying them to exchange pictures, and 23% to access social networking sites.