The future of journalism

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Professor Francis Nyamnjoh, Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town
Professor Francis Nyamnjoh, Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town

By Karabo Dikobe, third-year BJourn student


Day three of the Highway Africa virtual conference, which consisted of several academic and research tracks, was launched with a keynote by Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cape Town, Francis Nyamnjoh.

Professor Nyamnjoh is a scholar who has written several books, including Africa’s Media, Democracy and the Politics of Belonging (2005); Insiders and Outsiders: Citizenship and Xenophobia in Contemporary Southern Africa (2006); and #RhodesMustFall: Nibbling at Resilient Colonialism in South Africa (2016).

Head of Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies, Professor Anthea Garmen, described him as a scholar who makes theories about Africa.

Day three’s academic and research tracks provided delegates with the opportunity to turn the attention to the future of journalism and how it could be reinvigorated as a renewed force for good in the future. 

Prof Nyamnjoh began his keynote with the question, “What is new about the new times?” and went on to answer this question by saying that the internet has rendered the truth elusive.

“It is relativism gone mad,” he noted. What is new about the new times is that a good story is now defined by the number of hits, likes, or retweets it receives. A good story is better than the truth, primarily because social media platforms reward ‘good stories’ rather than the truth. Social media platforms celebrate narcissism and the individualisation of the truth. This is an important shift in digital journalism, Prof Nyamnjoh explained.

The next question Prof Nyamnjoh asked was, “What would new news entail?”

The response he gave was that as media practitioners and users of digital platforms, we need to realise that the future is non-linear and in the rear-view mirror. There is always something old in the new. He spoke of a new social truth that is negotiated, inclusive and dynamic.

He likened the internet to a fantasy world inspired by the 1954 novel My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Amos Tutuola. Like the fantasy ‘bush of ghosts’ in the novel, the internet is a place with limitless possibilities, an unpredictable place that serves as a free-for-all hunting ground. It is a dangerous place that is full of attraction and distraction that should be visited with care.

Therefore, we as media practitioners should use it to draw inspiration, learn lessons, and share truths that can join this social truth. We should navigate the internet with our feet grounded, and it should spur us on to leverage ubuntu, the interconnectedness of humanity. Prof Nyamnjoh said that we need to realise the power of the news and to use it to stimulate change and continuity for journalism.

The rest of the discussions touched on the emerging genres of journalism, the emerging shapes and scopes of news organisations and emerging work practices, how the journalism curricula can be rethought, the emerging businesses and revenue models and lastly, the emerging media innovation and creativity that is being seen and experienced. 


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