With a focus on the relationship of the Internet and the media as well as the future of traditional media, the 2016 Highway Africa Conference was held on the 28th and 29th of August at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.
The conference saw the attendance of several well known African journalists, media and communication professionals, editors and other experts that discussed what the impact of the Internet on media has been as well as how media enterprises respond to the opportunities and threats posed by the Internet.
Besides discussing the growth of digital journalism that is in some ways overtaking traditional media like print, as well as news feeds from social media, attendees also discussed the quality of content that is being distributed on different platforms and how to sustain media houses financially when most readers are unwilling to pay for news.
According to Lisa MaCleod, Times Media Group media strategist, digital media is also under threat due to distributed content, video, the usage rise of smart phones as well as ad-blocking, putting the sustainability of these media at risk.
“It is not only newspapers that are seeing their revenues go down but also online media,” she said. It was further underlined that online media platforms are losing their readership to social media platforms such as facebook and Twitter. Readers now prefer to browse their facebook pages to update themselves with current news instead of going directly to media websites to get news.
“Instead of putting a link on facebook that clicks back to your website, an instant article happens within the platform making the audiences stay with facebook and not go to your website. Less clicks for your website means, less ad and less revenue,” MaCleod said.
Fluff news viruses’ hard well written news, was another issue that was discussed as a challenge for serious journalism. With the current situation, media houses are forced to present their news content in a creative way to attract audiences. Some well known media houses are seen as leaning towards more entertainment and light news bits to retain their audiences.
“You have to be able to delight your audiences if you want to keep them. It used to be that content is king, now it is audience is king,” said Susan Valentine, a program manager at the Open Source Foundation (OSF).
Some suggested that audiences would have to learn to pay for news or tolerate advertisements and stop blocking ads. Some also stated that media is a business and like any normal business it needs to make a profit, hence it needs to attract advertisements and stop giving news for free.
This sentiment was challenged by those that argued if people have to pay for news; it will make it harder for poor communities to access information where it is much needed.
For 20 years the Highway Africa Conference has been at the centre of Africa’s debates on journalism, media and Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The conference has been dubbed the largest annual gathering of African journalists in the world.
This year’s Highway Africa celebrated its 20th year anniversary with a look back on its years of evolution. It was stated that the event had continued to expand and grow into a multi-pronged program with the following components: Research: mapping the terrain of the challenges of the interface of technology, journalism and the media; Education and Training: responding to the identified gaps this project makes a practical intervention by re-skilling, up-skilling, educating and training journalists. The conference is a forum for critical reflection on journalism, media, technology and development in Africa.