How the Internet has Changed the News

(My Panorama column for today, July 24, 2011. For more info about our seminar on How To Communicate Change through the Media, call the Ople Center at 8335337 or visit www.blasoplecenter.com).

During the Marcos years, when my father was labor minister, the print media dominated the news. Columnists like Ka Doroy Valencia and Joe Guevara were bigger than life.

But even then, my father had already sensed a change in the air. Veteran broadcast journalist Jun “Bote” Bautista recalled that way back when the print media ruled the news, Ka Blas Ople would look for TV journalists and wait for them to arrive before starting his press conference. He had seen the emerging importance of television news even when his own press releases were written with print media in mind.

Today, the power to report the news resides in not just one medium. With our camera-equipped phones and the affordability of Internet services, we are all citizen journalists. Remember Ondoy? Videos and photos were shared, stories swapped, and donations sent and received with lightning speed, thanks to technology. Whenever Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao enters the ring, one gets to know the results instantaneously – via Twitter or SMS. If Ondoy and Pacman’s fights were held decades ago, we would have to wait for the next day’s newspapers to read all about it.

Bad news travels even faster once viral. Good news has a better fighting chance to get around when found on YouTube. There are no real deadlines for Internet-based journalism. A blogger has no editor to fear or to answer to. In contrast, a news outfit has to figure out the headline by 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

You can see how the Internet has influenced the news by watching public affairs and news programs. In ABS-CBN’s Bandila, for example, anchors Karen Davila, Ces Drilon and Julius Babao read viewers’ reactions on Twitter and Facebook from their Mac-powered laptops. Even radio programs on AM and FM stations are using Facebook to draw more listeners.

In one of the Ople Center’s seminars on communications, media expert and radio anchor of DZXL’s Taumbayan Naman, Jake Maderazo, noted that the media could and should no longer ignore the power and influence of the Internet on how news is delivered. He said that even television news would have to compete with YouTube.

Every month, the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute in partnership with the Career Executive Service Board, holds a two-day seminar entitled, “Communicating Change Through Media”. Our participants come from different government agencies.

Recently, I asked our seminar participants for a show of hands on who had a Twitter account. A single hand was raised, among a group of eleven public sector staff. In contrast, almost all of them were on Facebook. One other participant pointed out the growing importance of LinkedIn. I wonder how this mini-survey would result had we polled department secretaries and undersecretaries.

For the sad thing is that most government agencies remain in the Jurassic age where the act of faxing press releases is the key pillar of their communications program. Early mishaps in the use of personal Twitter and Facebook accounts by a handful in government have resulted in lines drawn and distances kept between social media and steadfast adherence to everything considered traditional and therefore safe.

“Safe” gets you home but without 100% protection once you’re there. If you are in business or government, ignorance of the Internet is never bliss because digital conversations never cease; keyboards are easily tapped and not always by people with good intentions. Ignoring the Internet as a source of and creator of news is akin to living inside a dark and lonely cave with towering condominiums as your neighbors.

In the field of communications, one is not required to conquer the Internet, only to understand it. News of all kinds gets around faster with the reach of an IPAD or when one opens his or her mobile phone. The velocity by which it travels feeds the hunger of cyber habitants for even more news, faster developments. “Soundbites” must fit 140 characters, the length of a tweet.

Tablet computers have converted quite a few into information guzzlers. We tend to absorb bits and pieces of information floating on cyberspace. We have become generalists, crossing the thin line between information and education several times in a day. Thus, we need to rely on hardnosed professional journalists to verify sources, put together details, and give us the news. Soon, all of us will have nearly the same access to news at birth, but it would be the depth of reporting that matters. Substance and context matter even more in the scheme of things as daily news become even more intrusive.

Truth in journalism will never be outdated regardless of how much the Internet influences the news. As traditional and social media reinforce each other, we as citizens end up benefitting from the interplay of both mediums. The power to choose gives life to democracy at every click of the mouse.

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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