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Of media paradigm shifts and big data for development

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Last week, I received a WhatsApp text message analysing the intrigues in the ongoing maize flour shortage. The exposé gave a chronology of events leading up to the status quo, juxtaposing what is happening now, to what transpired in similar circumstances in 2011. It was the most informative piece of information I have read for some time; nothing like what appears in our daily Press.

For the uninitiated, such a radical (though factual) article can hardly see the light of day in our mainstream media. Journalists have to fit their thinking into a predetermined school of thought and rigid style. To make it, they act like the proverbial rat that chews your toes at night, while also breathing into them lest you wake up and hit it. I’m talking about purporting to talk the truth and being fearless, but really wary of the various powerful external interests that influence a media house’s business.

Source doesn’t matter, facts do

Indeed, print and broadcast media have reason to be worried about what the future holds. As mobile telephony becomes pervasive, both news sources and formats are moving away from the usual, traditional channels. For instance, the WhatsApp post on the maize saga went viral, definitely reaching thousands of people at a negligible cost. Going by the reactions I received after I forwarded it, the impact was considerable. The question of the source or author was secondary to its revelation. There was no brand association either.

This scenario is happening with regularity, by the minute, in the various online social media platforms. That is why scenes of people perpetually browsing their phones have become a norm at every turn. In addition, consumers of news have become more discerning, and can easily differentiate fact from make-believe. The writers in these platforms definitely enjoy more freedom to publish the hard facts that mainstream journalists fear to unearth, or to publish.

I used to think that the newspaper cannot die, but on second thoughts, this is becoming a real possibility. Advertisers are also increasingly thinking how they can leverage the massive numbers in the ubiquitous online platforms, unlike, for example, the newspaper, which one hardly goes back to after a single reading. You only need to look at the revenues associated with platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to understand that, going forward, it cannot be business as usual.


Already, word has it that media convergence has made some household journalism names in local media redundant. The modern journalist must have the skills to move seamlessly from one platform to another, customising news for online, print and electronic in real time. The majority of people receive breaking stories on their mobile phones awaiting more video coverage on television in the evening, and more analyses on print the next day. In a mobile phone, you get all these in a single platform – text, photography and video. The era of special editions is long gone!

Moving on, we celebrated the annual World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) on 17th May. This year’s theme, which is organised globally by the International Telecommunications Union, was “Big Data for Big Impact”. The theme aims at provoking conversations around the need for exploring ways of refining massive amounts of raw data into information that can be used for national planning.

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Simply put, big data can be defined as extremely large data sets that may be analysed by use of computers to reveal patterns, trends, and associations. This is done especially to study aspects of human behaviour and interactions, and to enable companies make strategic business decisions.

Hot on the heels of the WTISD was our Annual ICT (information and communication technology) Week, which is organised by the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, and the Communications Authority of Kenya. This event brings ICT industry players together to discuss the status of the sector, and what needs to be done so that it plays a more critical role in the country’s overall development agenda.

Harvesting of data

Today’s world is run by big data. From big corporate to the not-for-profit sector, the need for data cannot be overemphasised. In fact, it has been rumoured that some international charitable organisations use subterfuge to collect data from people in the guise of implementing aid programmes. This data is then passed on to global commercial concerns for marketing as well as research and development purposes.

Bottomline, there is nowhere to hide any more. Our media cannot run away or postpone fully embracing ICTs, unless they are suicidal. It’s a case of do or die, as people’s taste, beliefs and demands take paradigm shifts. At this rate, the only person who might mourn death of the newspaper is the butcher!

The writer is a communications consultant and public policy analyst. [email protected]



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STEPHEN NDEGWAhttp://www.businesstoday.co.ke/author/ndegwa
Stephen Ndegwa is an experienced media practitioner specializing in thought leadership. He has written for various media houses and publications, both locally and abroad. Ndegwa is also a strategic communication expert, with skills across the public relations and marketing mix. He is an author, blogger, poet and university lecturer in communication. Email: [email protected] FB: Stephen Ndegwa Twitter: @Ndegwasm
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