Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tweeting Change In Arab Journalism

Yasser Hareb writes: Traditional technology and content driven by reputation do not meet the expectations of young readers raised on Facebook and Twitter 
This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 11/06/2011 

During the Arab Media Forum, held in Dubai last month, I could feel the concern traditional media outlets had towards social and new media such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. What struck me the most, however, was that those who belong to traditional media still debate whether or not new media is able to overcome traditional media. What they have yet to realise is that new media has gone far ahead of the game; in terms of technology and content and the broader audience base it has.

On YouTube's statistics page it reads that the video content uploaded on YouTube every 60 days equals the total production of all American TV stations over the past 60 years. Each day, users view two billion video clips on YouTube alone. Despite the fact that Arab media outlets have been discussing the effect of online journalism since 2004, they are still holding on to traditional technology and content which does not meet reader expectations. The new generation simply cannot tolerate long introductions to news bulletins, and talk shows no longer appeal to viewers as much as they did 10 years ago, especially when they discuss politics.
The success that some satellite stations achieved during the recent Arab uprisings was due, in large part, to content provided by young people on the ground using things like mobile phones. However, the number of people who followed the news on Twitter and other social media websites was not less than the number of people who watched it on TV. When half of the population in the Arab world is under the age of 25, it becomes a fact that half of the media's targeted audience is young people using smart phones and new means of communications. Those young people do not want to sit and watch news bulletins on TV and will not be disappointed if they miss a certain programme; nor will they wait for the re-run. They have their own understanding of media and in order for the media to reach them; it has to be available via their smart phones and in their online communities.

Simple language
Furthermore, we have seen new names emerge from these young social media addicts. They have started playing an important role in the social and cultural movement, in the Gulf region at least. It would be naive to ignore their roles just because they are young when compared to prominent intellectuals and thinkers.

 Writers who are active on Twitter were the real stars of the Arab Media Forum. Almost every one of them was surrounded by a group of people wanting to chat and exchange ideas or just to take photographs with them. During the sessions, those young Twitterers were the closest to the ordinary people, and they were able to address the problems facing the society in a simple way. Their speeches were not pre-written or printed; like a lot of the other speakers. They didn't try to use sophisticated terms and concepts to impress the audience.
Rather, they used the same language an ordinary person uses, the language derived from people's everyday lives. It did not matter whether these stars carried deep knowledge or not. What mattered was that technology has imposed them on the scene and they have become influential.

I noticed that many of the big names in Arab journalism, who have been writing for decades, did not get the same attention as these young writers received, because those big shots haven't taken new media seriously yet. They still write their articles by hand and fax them to the newspaper for publication. They still live in the past and like to talk about it, and they still, to a great extent, address only the elite. Many of them are unable to comprehend the changes that have happened in Arab societies and they cling to their traditional daily columns. They simply cannot compete with the modernisation that's sweeping the world. In an article published in Success magazine last March, Darren Hardy says that by 1900, it had taken 150 years to double all human knowledge. Today it takes only one or two years, and by 2020, knowledge will double every 72 days.
Some of the ‘veteran' writers accuse me of too often taking the side of young people and defending their thoughts. But, let's be realistic. With all the changes we have been witnessing, it's imperative for every writer, intellectual and author to keep pace with the changes, to be close to society and talk ‘with' the people not ‘to' them. The next stage does not need preaching nor theoretical speeches. Writers have to address the needs of people in a realistic manner. The role of the regular simple man is playing should not be stultified because the regular man is no longer as simple as we might think.

As for those who do not believe in modern technologies or in the young generation, they have alienated themselves from the social movement and are no longer able to help shape public opinion. New technologies are not simple means of entertainment or tools to pass time; they have become an integral part of life today. I wish to see Arab writers and intellectuals come down from their ivory towers and socialise with the society, so that both sides can understand each other better.
Yasser Hareb is an Emirati novelist and writer on political and social affairs

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