THE have impacted significantly on its role

THE BLUR BETWEEN JOURNALISTS
AND INFLUENCERS

One cannot overemphasize the place of the
mass media in contemporary society. Since its beginnings, the mass media has
grown exponentially in size and influence, because of constant innovations in technology
that supports their operations. Consequently, from the days of newspapers, to
radio, to television, and since the 1980s, the Internet, the mass media has
undergone several transformations and transmutations which have impacted
significantly on its role and place in society (Straubhaar & LaRose, 2002).
The most current trend in mass media technology is the internet as well as
mobile phones and other related technologies that can be classified as ‘new
media’ (Sunday, 2008).

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At the time when newspapers
were the main method of getting news, journalists led conversations. Conversations
are still driven by journalists, but as more people get their news via social media,
it is influencers – people you trust enough to follow – who spread them. Journalists
are trained professionals who gather, assess, create, and present news and
information while an influencer is someone who has an established credibility
in a specific industry by development of a large audience and is able to
persuade others by virtue of their authenticity and reach (Carnoy, 2017). The rise
of the internet and social web has allowed more people to become influencers, sometimes
in very niche segments with a huge online audience. There are different types of
influencers. An editor of newspaper is arguably as much an influencer as a
celebrity, as is an academic, analyst, blogger, spokespeople, or highly viewed
YouTuber as PewDiePie. The line between traditional media and social media is increasingly
getting blurred as well as the line between what constitutes ‘media outreach’
through a journalist versus ‘social media influencer outreach’. However, it is
imperative to understand what both methods offer and how to effectively employ
them.

There are various meanings of the term convergence.
However, most definitions seem to have a common ground, stating that it is the
blending of old media, (traditional media such as magazines, newspapers,
television, and radio) with new media (computers and the Internet) to deliver
content. It is using technology to provide content on various platforms through
computer driven distribution systems. The term convergence is elusive and is
used in several contexts, which is often ambiguous in its definition. Jenkins
(2001) states convergence occurs on multiple levels through five processes:
technological, economic, social, global, and cultural convergence. Seib (2001) posits,
“convergence involves marrying the slick format of television to the
almost infinite information-providing capacity of the Internet” (p.
7). Convergence is the window of opportunity for traditional media to align
itself with technologies of the 21st century. The digitization of media and
information technology and the ensuing transformation of communication media
are major contributors to convergence (Gershon 2000; Fidler 1997).

The Australian Communication and Media
authority (ACMA) defines media convergence as ‘the phenomenon where digitization
of content, as well as standards and technologies for the carriage and display
of digital content, are blurring the traditional distinctions between
broadcasting and other media across all elements of the supply chain, for
content generation, aggregation, distribution and audiences’ (ALRC, 2011). The
ACMA identifies a key consequence of convergence for consumers as being a
substantial increase in ‘the availability of media content online – from
broadcasters, news organizations, social media sites, iTunes and YouTube, to
name a few of the main media sources – on an increasing array of connected
devices and screens. The choice of devices for accessing the internet and 3G
and wireless broadband networks is also giving users flexibility in how and
where they consume media’ (ALRC, 2011).

Deuze (2004) looks at the definition
of convergence from the position of ‘multimedia journalism’. This, according to
him, is the integration and presentation of media products through different
media. He also refers as the horizontal integration of media, which in this
case involves both traditional and digital media. This bears some semblance to
cross media ownership, where one establishment (or owner) operates different
media forms (Hanson, 2005).

In the early days in print and broadcast
newsrooms, access to the Internet at workstations was not widespread; today in
the world of computer-assisted reporting it is the norm. Amobi (2014)
identifies several benefits of media convergence. Citing Deuze (2004) and
Verweij (2009), she posits that the convergence “offers more opportunities for
the public to be more informed and involved in a story, and offer the reporter
and the editor more integrated tools to tell the story” (Amobi, 2014). She adds
that convergence has transformed media organizations from what she termed ‘lone
rangers’ into multimedia ‘team players’, ultimately enhancing their output.
Convergence promotes interactively, she highlights, and aids to combine to
greater effect the “depth of newspaper coverage, the immediacy of television,
and the interactivity of the Web”.

The internet, mobile phones, emails, chat
rooms and so on are examples of new media. In each of their own way, these
types of new media have an effect in media relations practice. They enable media relations practitioners
to work creatively, efficiently and effectively which would bring about
confidence in not only the media but also the public. With the new media, creating,
publishing, distributing and consuming media content is democratized. This
means that everyone, and anyone, who has the access and means to new media
technology can create and control the dissemination of media messages. The new media
enhances two-way communication which is the
core of good media relations. Ayankojo (2001) states that “there are chat rooms for virtual
discussion where users have opportunities to talk on-line” with organizations that have websites. Messages sent
in a chat room appear almost in real time on the devices of other users in the
same chat room. New media also encourage feedback and
interactivity and get immediate feedback as the case maybe. Lievrouw and Livingstone (2006) state
that new media give users the means to generate, seek and share content
selectively, and to interact with other individuals and groups on a scale that
was impracticable with traditional means.” In short, the immediacy, responsiveness
and social presence of interaction in most new media constitute a huge
opportunity for media relations.

In this digital age,
influencers have evolved which now has a new meaning for the public relations
industry. Public relations professionals now place great emphasis on influencers
as they are constantly looking for influential people to advocate for their
clients. In today’s environment,
there is a constant mix of traditional and non-traditional influencers. Most influencers aren’t journalists, and not all journalists are
influencers. But sometimes their powers are combined in a super-influential
hybrid who drives conversations.

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