The tipping point is now! News dissemination and journalism practice have rapidly ascended to the next level as the World Wide Web shifted from numerical and statistical pages to user-generated content concept. The ever-changing dynamics of technology has enabled to redesign our concept and medium of communication with more essentially the rise of social media platforms and online digital media websites where communication and interaction between the user/audience and the media organization/online news platform are a creatively a two-way process.
For almost a decade, social media has been a catalyst of change in the way we communicate, searched and consume information. The outcome of connecting online has expanded our sphere for free expression and dissemination of content. From a personal interaction perspective to reporting media contents and debates, social media has breached all geographical barriers ultimately through the availability of various online social networking platforms.
Innovation in technology and online networking is growing each day at a prompt rate thereby defining not only our way of communication but also our style of living and perceiving the world. Our society is undergoing through deep transformations at various social, political and cultural levels, and online news reporting does reflect this ever-changing socio-cultural alteration. With the ascension of huge social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, LinkedIn and MySpace, social media has played as a facilitator to bridge the audience worldwide to the world news and occurrences, in the fastest way possible. Social media is a new form of public sphere that spreads a culture of exchange and connectedness. Citizens gather under one or different platforms to generate opinions and attitudes to revitalize and create a new product of democracy. Freedom offers by social media networks is undeniably the most powerful free expressive dimension of communication of the 21st century. Moreover, a social networking platform’s basic features of accessibility, proximity and interactivity enable information to circulate in more efficient and coherent ways.
In recent years, local traditional media organizations in Mauritius have established themselves following the trends from an international perspective, using digital media concept towards a targeted audience. Le Défi Media group has introduced the Web TV, La Sentinelle LSL Radio and Web Multimedia and ION News, as an independent media organization for instance, has been able to create enough visibility among Mauritians to diverge towards a digital journalism communication. From serious economic and political matters to entertaining showbiz pop culture news, a relatively large number of the audiences in Mauritius access, consume and participate in news stories online.
While social media has significantly changed the way news is being reported from news organizations, the participation of the public in the news has never been so active. New media being a tool for interaction and exchange, people are free to create their own space and publish their thoughts, perspectives or report a happening without having to go through the print press or send the story to a journalist or write a letter to the news organization. Major political and social events the world have led to a massive use of social media by the public to report live instances.
Recent examples of the Arab Spring in Middle Eastern and African Countries, where protestors used extensively the internet and social media to communicate, voice out their opinions and plan their protests. In Egypt, for instance, social media was used to organize impromptu gatherings. Social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have largely contributed to events such as the Arab Spring, 9/11 attacks in New York, London terrorists attacks, Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Social media is like mouth on steroids. This sphere of interaction knows no boundaries and it is a clear signal that the element of “exclusivity”, is not only given to journalist or an established media organization, but the public or citizen journalists via social media can also give out important ‘exclusive’, news items. The audience has a say on the news as it can also be provided and disseminated through a Bottom-up model rather than Top-down model.
The media is a fundamental institution for a democracy as the press is considered as being the fourth estate. All the other powers have counter powers and the counter power of the press is the audience. Being interactive on the internet with social media as a platform sharing the news is a challenging evolution where journalists are kept on their toes by the audience and is called to task. However, many studies have been carried out around the world on when will the written press die. Specialized magazines with niche audiences will probably stay more in the market but the news press-print industry can die at any point in time.
The question is, what proportion of the audience still has the reflex of turning to written press, radio and television as the main source of information? The proportion of people consuming traditional media is also diminishing at the same time. It is inevitable for people in years to come to consume news online. And this will definitely have an impact on advertisement when they will obtain tangible proofs that the number of audience online is growing and they will shift as well and add interest to the online concept rather than traditional print advertising. What will happen then? Will the economic model of the press be even more weakened because of the massive shift from written to online press?
Therefore, just going with the flow and following the international trend will not enhance the Mauritian media. As the tipping point is now, the mechanism of journalism is in continuous re-invention and so must be the content while reclaiming journalism as a credible profession. The return to what is important and what matters to the audience while endorsing and embracing values such as respect, truth, civility and neutrality in the news and not falling into the trap of gossips, sex stories and voyeurism. The concept of digital journalism in Mauritius needs to find the right strategy, skills, and capacity building characteristics to redefine its position in the national and global media market while keeping up to level of global technological, economic and political evolution.