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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Closing the divide in media

Features of the week:

The desire to cut the gap between media practice in developed countries and its counterparts in developing nations may have motivated the International Institute for Journalism, Berlin, to introduce Multimedia Online Journalism course in its fold. REMMY NWEKE, who was part of the third session recently, reports that media in developing countries have to brace up.

WHETHER we believe it or not, digital divide exists, and moreso it exists at various levels of the society which we all live in. From poverty to knowledge down to information disparity, the divide in the society has continued to widen day after day.

The role of the media in building a reliable bridge across all these spheres of the society could not be over-looked, as the media has since acknowledged the ‘fourth estate of the realm’ position.

This position enables the media to act as intermediary between the government and the governed, the rich and poor, advanced and the less advanced nations among other social strata.

Recognising import of multimedia
Obviously in recognition of this fact and role of the media, the German government through InWent Capacity Building International, an agency of the Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ) assembled a group of 15 young media professionals from basically developing countries in Berlin for Multimedia and Online course.

The group made up of journalists selected from nine countries including Nigeria 1, Ghana 3, Kenya 1, Zimbabwe 1, India 1, Laos 1, Moldova 3, Tanzania 1 and Vietnam 3; put into gender equation of seven males to eight females.

Titled ‘Multimedia and Online Journalism III’ the course brought
together in Berlin, Germany people from various backgrounds in the practice of journalism, radio, print and prospective online editors.

The third session organized by InWent Germany through its subsidiary, the International Institute for Journalism (IIJ) Berlin, had lasted between September 8 through November 12, one week internship was also put together for the team at the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) 2005, which held in Tunisia, between November 16 – 18.

Prufert’s message
Welcoming this set of students, Head IIJ division, Mr. Peter Prufert, said in a message that the institute has trained over 600 journalists in 30 selected courses since the beginning of last year alone.

He declared, “They are now part of a worldwide network of some 6,000 alumni of IIJ in more than 230 countries.”

Mr. Prufert who was represented by the Course Director, Mr. Warner Eggert, said that for over 40 years, IIJ has been active in the training of newspaper and news agency journalists from developing and nations in transition.

The most recent of these courses, Mr. Prufert pointed out was the introduction of Multimedia and Online Journalists, stressing that with this, “the institute is adapting to the needs of a rapidly changing media world and the growing importance of the Internet”.

He emphasised that although independent and critical reporting helps to democratically monitor the state but only well groomed journalists working to the highest core value of professional standards could facilitate this critical role of ‘watch dog’, in order to assist in creating transparency by holding government and business accountable.

In addition, Mr. Prufert said this basic philosophy fits seamlessly into the media development concept of the Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ), the main stakeholder of InWent.

“Together with other international organizations the BMZ considers democracy, good governance and an active civil society as a precondition for development,” he said. All programmes organized by IIJ, whether in Berlin or abroad, he said, are geared towards the practical requirements of journalism.

“We hope that you would find the working conditions conducive, the learning atmosphere and the exchange of experiences stimulating,” he urged.

Top staff of IIJ who were present at the brief ceremony includes the administrator, Mrs. Melanie Bolik, lead facilitator, Mr. Peter Berger and his assistant, Ms Birgit Heitfeld, as well as seminar assistants led by Mrs. Sabine Lager, and made up of Mrs. Rita Kurzbach, Ms. Carol Starr and Ms. Larissa Klatt.

Back to classroom
Afterwards, the outline of the course was reeled out for the participants with a copy deposited beside their name tags at the class room and soon after the welcome dinner, Mr. Berger and Ms Heitfeld took charge by explaining the mission, readers and future of the media to the students.

Then come the time for participants to introduce their publications; analysis and outlook as well as participants country presentations.

The class took off with two-day lectures on ‘photos for the web’ presided over by Mr. Ulf Dahl who made the introduction of software for photo production, students workshop before the recap and evaluation of exercises by the instructor.

Usability of the contents for the online medium was soon unveiled by Mr. Jan Persiel, who took the class on ‘How to design the perfect website’, its usability comprising introduction, graphic design, technical questions, analysis of sites of participant’s publications.

For the web
Later it was on how to improve on these websites and usability sum up, followed by ‘Graphics for the web’ broken into introduction, software pro and cons, as well as how to produce graphics such as Graphics Interchange Format (GIF), Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG), and Shockwave Flash (SWF) formats among others.

GIF format is the most popular on the Internet, mainly because of its small file size, JPEG is a lossy compression method regularised by International Standards Organisation (ISO). SWF format which is pronounced ‘swiff’ is ideal for presenting vector-based interactive and animated graphics with sound for the web, among others.

By Friday of that week, two spokespersons were elected by the class; one from Ghana and another from Moldova, to assist course facilitators by acting as middle men for the group and the school administration.

Then come ‘How to use sound’ by Carsten Behrendt; ‘Online Investigation’ by Messrs Peter Berger and Matthias Spielkamp; ‘Writing for the web’ by Daryl Lindsey from Spiegel de and Ms Sabina Casagrande of Dutch Welle which focused on writing skills and practice.

Apapa Expressway in ‘Hamburg’
By fourth week of the course, Ms Heitfeld came up with the planning of the excursion to Hamburg, the home of media houses in Germany, just like Fleet Street of London and Apapa-Oshodi Expressway and Acme-Ogba in Lagos.

This gave participants the opportunity of exploring the city of Hamburg, its neighbourhood as well as its media savoured with history of individual media houses visited which have at least two in daily schedule.

The visit to Hamburg was saddled with a lot of exposures, publishable research by individuals, interviews and meeting people in the media with differing journalistic backgrounds.

The journey saw members of the class smiling to Hamburg through the ICE high speed train after about three hours trip with attendant ‘culture shock’ for all participants.

Literally described by one of the students, thus, “It was like crying that you don’t have a shoe until you find someone without a foot.” As such captured the culture difference between Berlin and Hamburg.

Transforming media era
From editorial visitation to tagesshau.de which survives only on radio and television taxes to the Media Analyzer, the German news agency known as dpa-info.com (MINDS) and its interesting evolution from traditional news agency to modern and ‘mobile’ news agency. Spiegel.de, Zeit.de (The Tide) and Morning Post, Mopo.de also hosted participants before they jetted out of the city but not without visiting Autobild, an evolving online market place for cars.

One thing worth taking away from Media Analyzer Inc, where the Project Manager, Mr. Sebastian Grandt, took time to give a pass mark to the Champion Newspapers website, www.champion-newspapers.com, after assessment of the site by the global number one media analyzer based in Hamburg.

Website assessment
While evaluating the website ‘unofficially’ at a session with course participants, he said, the www.champion-newspapers.com, is attractive.

He explained that the white spaces in between the categories in the website’s home page and news display, makes champion-newspapers.com online striking.

“I don’t have quarrels with the white spaces,” he declared in response to students’ enquiry, stressing he does not have any problem with the white spaces used in fashioning the website.

This was due to some critic’s view that the white spaces were indication of lack of content.

Although he was uncomfortable with three animations on the website, namely on the motto of the company, stock exchange reports and underlined invitation urging visitors to visit again.

The expert also said these animations should have been reduced to one, especially on the stock report and described the one on the motto and underlining invitation as ‘compounding animation’.

Impacts on readers
He further said websites must be kept simple with big headline points to attract readers to leading page stories, even as images have become imperative in media analysis due to impact it has on readers.

Mr. Grandt pointed out that his organization is concerned with visibility and usability of media online contents.

Warning however, that some media houses allow the online version to be over-loaded with adverts or contents, he pointed out that opening every media website, readers are faced with some questions such as ‘which website is this, what can I do here and what’s the interest’.

“The bigger the image the more time people are attracted to the subject aside,” he asserted.
Disclosing that online readers spend approximated 10 to 25 seconds per media website, stressing that in the actual sense, online visitors to media website do not read immediately, but scan over the page contents first before deciding on what to read.

Making money
Participants also developed ideas, topics for individual projects and worked in groups to evaluate protocols of the excursion, putted and discussed results thereof with presentation at the end of the day by groups usually five, given the number of class members.

Mr. Kornelius Furst’s lead topic on ‘How to make money’ in journalism left participants literally disappointed but thinking inwardly across marketing, advertising, advertorials, cross-media co-operations, development of models for individual websites as well as budget - concepts and solutions for projects from launch to breaking even and putting ideas into practice for individual websites.

Came then, the ‘Future of Online Journalism’ focusing on web logs with Mr. Nils G. Indahl, who marshalled out the state-of-the-art on the ideas behind mobile Internet and how to use it.

Sooner than later, the time for website projects took the stage beginning with collection of topics, presentation and summary, structuring story board to development with software for online editing entrenched in WedEdition.

72 days after
As soon as these projects were over, followed by presentation of certificates to members of the class, it was time to head to the northern African country of Tunisia, where the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS-05) was hosted for three keen days, definitely not as observers but to do justice to our profession of reporting the event, deploying the methodology garnered over the 72 days spent in Berlin and its environ.

Looking back, one conclusion was made by participants that developing countries’ media need to transform their websites or web editions from mere conversion of just contents so as to not only make it viable for business opportunities which are going in roves online but to keep pace as the technologies transform media from its traditional position to multimedia.

Challenges
This is not to forget the challenges the likes of weblog; online relay of thoughts by people with or without journalistic background and iPod, which is online or Internet broadcasting amidst others pose to today’s media.

The earlier media organizations in developing countries begin to rethink about migration to the 21st century medium, by ensuring distinct management structure for their online version, like the Mail & Guardian of South Africa; the better, especially newspapering, due to what experts foresee as increasing online reading generation.

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