Presenting a Digital Media Strategy at D.I.E


                                                                                                                     Cartoon by  Julian Kuecklich of Playability

In April 2013 Projects-Direct.Net was invited to present at an international workshop entitiled: The Internet & New Social Media in Democracy Promotion by the German Institute for Development (D.I.E).

The theme of the session was making sense of digital media in an international development context.

The key message was that there is a danger of international donors focussing too much attention on digital media in inappropriate settings at the cost of more mainstream media.

The presentation was based on a digital media staregy worked up by Tim Williams and Clodagh Miskelly for Panos London in 2012. An introduction to that strategy is provided below.

This strategy tries to bring the tecchies and hacks together and focus back onto content as the main driver of change.


Digital media is having a profound effect on power structures and is flattening hierarchies and Panos London is keen to explore how the digital media revolution could potentially benefit the poor and marginalised.

Social media in particular has encouraged the emergence of the “fifth estate”; loose short term coalitions and individuals who can use ICTs to question the social order and hold institutions to account on very narrow policy issues. These groups and individuals use social media to be part of, influence and respond to mass media programming. Social media can also circumvent mass media through platforms like Twitter.  

The increasing availability of affordable tools and affordable access to networks, in particular via mobile devices, is leading to a rapid expansion in the numbers of people who can access digital networks and by extension join the fifth estate.  The implication of new factors in digital communication structures means the mass media have to become more people centred in order to remain relevant and profitable.

Panos London believes the best way to steer a course through this unstable era is a two-fold approach. First accelerate efforts to help the mass media to understand how they can best operate in a networked world, and second slow down the race to be using the latest digital app and look to how these new tools can support a viable and pluralistic media.

In this context Panos London believes it is time to take stock of digital media development strategies, and share, pilot and implement some best practice models that solve some of these issues.

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Digital Media Challenges

Hierarchical organisations across the world are being challenged by networks and information technology. The mass media are no exception. Their top-down information flows, closeness to power, and hierarchical structures are transforming, because of online data, social media and citizen journalism.

Rapid and ongoing digital media developments bring new challenges to do with managing information, keeping pace with technical changes and uptake of hardware and software and changing practices and relationships with media.  The owners and developers of hugely successful social media platforms hold significant influence over the work of mass media. The number of applications and platforms being developed is overwhelming and distracts from considering how to develop an effective citizen focused media.

Enthusiasm for the democratic potential of these networks disguises their potential to further exclude the poorest and most marginalised voices.

Areas of Exploration

Networked Newsrooms

To meet the challenges of the age, newsrooms are going to have to embrace and understand digital technology, and what it means for how they work, as much as what they report. A networked newsroom is one where:  audiences have real time right to reply; audiences shape news priorities; circulation (or sharing) is managed by audiences; geography, language and marginalisation are no longer barriers to news gathering. Equally journalists will find that they work in transmedia formats; that they come under equal scrutiny to politicians, that they rely on online data more than press conferences; that they understand the data sources that they are handling; that they produce more material but travel less; and that the population are reporters, rather than witnesses. Editors may no longer be necessary.  Readers may send their questions to journalists attending press conferences via text.

Managing Citizen Reporters

Panos makes a distinction between full-time professional journalists and citizens who report, but sees great opportunities for both managing these relationships, and supporting the development of digital reporters to become journalists.  A whole new spectrum of audience – media relationships are developing from audience members sending texts through to ongoing provision of content from citizen reporters who can access stories and opinions unavailable to mass media journalists.  This requires new models of practice to manage mass contributions, and to address verification, remuneration, and media ethics.

Data Journalism

New developments in digital technology in regard to the collecting, interpreting and presenting of data brings a new set of opportunities and challenges for journalism.  Governments and international bodies are moving rapidly to opening up public information online for anyone to read and use for their own purposes.  New ‘crowd sourcing’ tools allow anyone with a mobile phone to contribute to data collection with significant impact for accountability and investigative journalism. As a result journalists need to grapple with new forms of data from a range of sources in a range of formats and even draw on their audience to gather data.  This creates opportunities for reinvigorating investigative journalism and the scrutiny role of the mass media but it also requires a developing new skills in digital and data literacy, to understand the data, produce the human stories behind it and make use of new narrative and visual techniques to communicating these stories to the public.

Business models for the digital media

To survive, the digital media will have to find business models that work.  These models may use technology to generate income independently of information provision.  Newspaper boards may have to generate income from other business sectors such as online marketing sites for property car sales, recruitment marketing, school educational assessment systems, and publishing.

Media Legislation

Legislation is a key indicator of media development. Networked societies require new legislation. Private lives are becoming publicly accessible.  Old legal definitions are becoming meaningless. National boundaries become increasingly irrelevant and individuals and institutions become open to hacking, scamming and public attack. Trade unions have to embrace and protect citizen journalists.  Networked societies will need to review privacy policies, libel, defamation and impunity.  Self-regulation may no longer be the model for a free press, and citizens may gain a voice and a role in both monitoring and punishing the press.