I began writing news on a typewriter. In our small and cheap broadcasting station we cut audio tape with a razor blade and even edited silent, negative film by ripping out black spots with our fingers and splicing the two pieces back together with ordinary, clear, sticky tape! You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the problems this could cause as the film ran over the sprockets in the projector.
Technology affected how we covered the news in those days. It still does. Computers let us be writers as well as editors. We can block and move, search and replace, spell check and grammar check after we write instead of having to think about the story before we begin writing. Laptops allow us to do all this in the field and transmit the story back to the newsroom almost instantaneously.
Editing digital audio on a computer is quicker and more accurate than working with tape. Radio reporters and producers can include quotes and clips from five different time zones with a click of the mouse. In the past the raw tape would be shipped in by bus or plane or “fed” in by telephone or broadcast quality audio line (the Cadillac option).
Videotape replaced film in newscasts years ago and digital editing is now so smooth that it has raised concerns that perhaps you should not always believe what you see! Faxes, modems and wireless handheld communicators allow newspaper reporters to check wire stories and the competition before filing stories.
When I was Executive Assistant to a big city Mayor in the 1980s, I’d regularly mail news releases to the media with great effect. Paid wire services didn’t have the reach and faxes weren’t yet in widespread use. Today, if you ask a panel of reporters at a conference how they want you to reach them, you’ll get many different answers: through my producer, my cell phone, the newsroom phone, fax, email, wireless handheld communicators and so on.
The first course I taught was called “Mass Media Studies.” Soon afterwards, I regularly gave a speech to The Canadian Police College called “the Death of the Mass Media.” I was making a point about the fragmentation of the market, proliferation of stations and the multiple choices that consumers had.
Today, the market is more fragmented and diverse — and tomorrow it will be even more so. New digital technology allows broadcasters to use the frequencies assigned to them to carry several television or radio channels, plus a variety of other data services.
When you consider that each television station will be able to transmit as many as five different signals and add that to the choices already available via cable and satellite, you have some idea how much the broadcast scene is changing. And we haven’t included “streaming” on the Internet. However, more choice of news outlets to watch, listen to or read may not automatically mean more reporters or more varied sources of information.
Through convergence and cross-ownership the same media companies today often own newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, magazines as well as Internet providers. That means fewer sources of news, even if there are more news outlets and appliances on which to access it.
Owners of news outlets are looking to maintain their earnings by collecting smaller amounts, but from many more outlets. They can’t afford to let each small outlet run its own news operation. That may well lead to shared newsrooms and fewer reporters and staff trying to cover the same geographic area.
If you are a public affairs professional, you need to keep up with these changes and trends. What worked well in the first part of your career just might be obsolete in the second half.
The other major change involves the “face” of the media. When I began reporting, the business was dominated by white males. Women were just being hired in greater numbers and people of colour were not yet well-represented. All that is changing.
Medium and large-sized cities throughout North America are attracting immigrants and refugees at an incredible rate. The Greater Toronto Area ( the largest urban area in Canada) is absorbing 70,000 immigrants and refugees every year, of whom 40% speak neither English nor French. Projections based on census data show that almost one half of the area’s population of five million people now consists of ethnic minorities and the figure is growing at an annual rate of 1.5%.
All sorts of new publications and broadcasting stations are being established to cater to a growing appetite for news and entertainment in languages other than English, French or Spanish. Some operate in one language and culture, others may be shared by several ethnic minorities. However they all have viewers and listeners who are consumers and who, eventually, will take their place in the social and political life of their communities.
Advertisers are already aware of these new opportunities. People interested in good media relations should also be aware of the addition-al opportunities provided by these outlets to tell their stories. Making an effort now may pay off later.