Convergence, changing media and public relations

I’ve been thinking about convergence over the last couple of days – how convergent technologies impact on what we do.

Save for the ANC’s signature desire to control everything, South Africa has an excellent piece of legislation in the Electronic Communication Act to address the fact that broadcasting and other types of electronic communication can no longer be pigeon-holed. They’re converging.

Vincent Maher wrote a post last year about how this Act is changing the media in South Africa – focussing somewhat on potential competition for Multichoice in the pay-TV market. He concludes by speculating about whether this will lead to greater opportunities for local news production or merely the licensing of existing international content.

I noticed a great response to convergent technologies and the threat of the YouTube phenomenon to traditional broadcast media while in London last month. Five TV, a channel that appears targeted particularly at younger viewers, has a “Your News” feature on their website and, if it’s newsworthy enough, on their bulletins. Achieving your fifteen minutes of fame is a strong attraction. It’s also a really cheap way for Five TV to have eyes, ears and cameras everywhere. Your content doesn’t get more local than that.

I should mention that they’re far from the only channel broadcasting user-generated content. I recall watching the terrorist attack at Glasgow airport on Sky News last year, where the footage that was played over and over again was recorded by eye-witnesses using mobile phones.

But the convergence doesn’t end there. The Web 2.0 revolution has forced all media to re-invent themselves (that’s what Vincent’s doing at the M&G, after all). And the convergence of social media functionality is the topic of a post all of its own. Why go to several sites for news, networking, blogging, etc. when you can do everything from one?

It’s also forced us marketing and PR people to re-evaluate our roles. We’re no longer merely sources of content for the media, we’re also publishers of that content. In addition, we can no longer interact only with traditional journalists. There’s a multitude of bloggers out there publishing their take on the news, not to mention determining the news.

And, whereas the DA’s online presence used to be considered merely an archive of our documents and press releases, it’s becoming a primary channel of communication for us. It’s direct and unmediated – a definite advantage. But that’s only if people are paying attention. Therein lies the continuing challenge.

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