To Rwandan media: Undermine impact of digital technologies at your own peril

Editor,

RE: “Experts: Digital era least of African media worries” (The New Times, November 9).

The local media community is playing a very dangerous game, and has been doing so for quite some time. Summarily dismissing digital technology as a significant factor in the sustainability of media outlets shows the predicament Rwandan media finds itself in: it is completely disconnected from its consumers, as well as from the progress in the sector as obtains in the rest of the world.

The landscape of the world’s media industry today is in turmoil. Mergers abound, outlets close and disappear, new ones emerge. Platforms are being transformed using new and disruptive technologies, and even the role of the journalist and what even constitutes journalism is facing constant disruption.

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Rwandan Journalists conduct interview in the past. / File

Meanwhile, Rwandan journalists are focused on begging for government handouts, almost on a daily basis now, they are caught in an endless loop of African Aid Mentality. In a country where we are trying to safeguard our dignity and progress by moving away from the aid-beggar mentality that plagues so many nations on the continent.

If you dismiss the digital transformation that world media is facing, it is little wonder digital progress is passing you by. “Eyeballs” is a concept central to any sort of profitability of any media house in the world today, but sadly you will not find many Rwandan media operators who even understand that “eyeballs” is the very currency media companies like Google (a service each of us uses for free, every day) thrive on.

Today telecom companies have made irreversible incursions into the traditional banking market. Traditional banking dismissed the advent of digital payment platforms much in the same way Rwandan journalists are dismissing digital technologies today. And yet, this is only the beginning. Traditional banking as is practiced today is a dying model. Especially now that African countries age demographics show an increasingly youthful population. A demographic largely ignored by traditional banking and a demographic being born and raised into a world where digital is as normal as asphalt roads and avocados growing on trees. It is only the older generation for whom digital technologies have not yet taken the mainstream. Dismissing digital tech developments is a great way to reveal your age, actually.

At the same time, it is natural for many traditional and entrenched paradigms to be very difficult to adapt to the change of times. Old habits die hard. It takes a level of intellectual creativity and imagination to see the signs of societal, technological and economic transformations, and lack in such qualities is not solely a Rwandan problem. These same telcos, the world over, are also losing ground to alternative digital communication platforms such as WhatsApp & Co.

Ask yourselves how much time on average you use WhatsApp to communicate, and how often you still make phone calls. Kodak, a company which was known for the production of photographic cameras and film, is today all but obsolete. Except for a shrinking number among “professional photographers” and hobbyists, how many of us still buy a dedicated camera, when our phones have cameras already integrated in them?

At this rate, given the apparent ignorance of the gravity of the mess they are in, I do not see how any media outlet in Rwanda, outside of maybe Kinyarwanda radio stations, will survive another two to five years, unless they wake up and smells the coffee.

Media is a rapidly evolving landscape. You can either evolve with the times, or stand idly by begging for scraps and get left behind in the shambles of your own delusions.

Dayo Ntwari