How is the smartphone affecting news media pros?
By Rawda Al Otaiba
ABU DHABI—It takes but a tap of a finger before a small screen is inundated with megabytes of data—data that has instantaneously brought the reader the most immediate updates from across the globe.
It is undeniable that the way we receive and send newsworthy information has changed over the course of just a few decades. Today, we hold in the palm of our hands a device that we can fit into our pockets. It serves as a camera, a television monitor, a radio, a voice recorder and a search engine. The smartphone’s primary function is just that—a telephone—but it is used for all these things at once, making it a very important tool for somebody who works in the communications industry.
It would be easy to assume that smartphones have made the professional lives of journalists simpler and faster. A journalist has access to a plethora of multimedia equipment in the space of a few centimeters when before it would require the acquisition of costly camera equipment and/or computer monitors. Not only were these devices costly, but they were cumbersome and inhibited movement.
The smartphone has changed the ways in which journalists do their jobs. They are more mobile than ever before, and they are no longer quite as specialized as they used to be.
Communication technology has developed rapidly over the last century and a half, and information is received in a way that is faster and more convenient than when it was through the telegraph and even the radio. The telegraph was invented between the 1830s and the 1840s and helped changed the way people sent and received short bits of information over an expanse of land. As telegraph lines were constructed, usually next to railroad tracks, vast distances were conquered at the stroke of a key.
Then, in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell developed the first ever telephone. The phone overcame one key limitation of the telegraph, mainly that now the voice could be used for transmission, instead of Morse code. Now, an individual could voice information over long distance and get immediate vocal feedback. Thus, the telephone reduced the amount of time spent to send information from the sender to the receiver.
Smartphones trace back their conception to the 1970s, if not sooner, and in 1992 the first modern mobile telephone was developed by Frank Canova Jr. of IBM. It was called the IBM Simon. Since the inception of smartphones into everyday life is a relatively late development, it is safe to assume that many people who are working in the communication industry have experienced both a world with and without smartphone technology.
It is unequivocally true that smartphones have had an impact on the way that communication professionals conduct their everyday work. Through an anonymous survey of media professionals in the UAE, certain advantages and disadvantages of smartphone use can be seen.
One advantage of the smartphone for communication professionals is that it allows individuals to work from anywhere. Thus, keeping in touch with sources and the newsroom is easier and faster. A journalist does not have to be in the newsroom or at home next to a landline telephone to make or take a call.
A reporter is able to provide immediate news updates. Furthermore, the smartphone is convenient and easy to use, as well as allowing constant contact between sources of information and events. Because smartphones have multiple tools, the multimedia content it can produce allows journalists to interact with readers in new and interesting ways, including podcasts and videos, and on social media—such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.
“When I became a reporter, gathering voices and new ideas to feature in the newspaper became easier for me due to the many followers I had on social media,” one Abu Dhabi journalist said. “I found sources easily by searching through Twitter and Instagram, and many of my stories emerged from conversations I had had with people on such platforms.”
Some of the disadvantages of smartphone devices the professionals mentioned are that there is a limited battery life, communication professionals are hardly ever free from their work, the device has a small screen and keyboard. Similarly, “constant contact” can be negative when journalists are tied to their work around the clock.
Comments by the journalists surveyed in the UAE reveal that social media can be a tool or a medium to air rumours and in turn these rumours can be seen as credible and authentic news. This has a tendency to devalue journalism practiced by well-trained and experienced reporters.
“As a reporter, I view my usage of the information and the platforms to be positive as I always make sure to verify the information and gather enough voices and experts to comment on any topic while offering solutions to the public,” the journalist said.
Although there are indeed disadvantages with the way in which smartphones assist communication professionals, there were also disadvantages with old means of technologies and the limitations of the devices that were available to professionals back then.
“There are always limitations on what can and cannot be covered. We are also constrained by time, so sometimes a great guest cannot come to the studio and a phone call is not practical,” remarked a freelance radio broadcaster in Dubai.
The ever-present and changing technology of smartphone devices has changed the face of journalism and communication. Despite some disadvantages, there are a majority of advantages in the use of smartphones in the communication field. Smartphones make the transfer and processing of information easier and quicker, as well as being the multi-purpose journalistic tool that enables professionals to incorporate a plethora of media into one event.
Perhaps what is important to look at further is how this trend has affected the overall quality and authenticity of the information the public receives from the news media. Smartphones, along with social media use, as we have seen with U.S. President Donald Trump, have radically changed how the public perceives information today. In the United States, the term “fake news” has entered the public discourse. There is real concern about the powerful using social media to distort the truth, to challenge the factualness of facts.
What do you think about how changing technology is affecting the news media? Post your comments below.