The world is today grappling with a triad of challenges in the form of the threat of climate change, the rise of populism politics and the attendant polarisation of citizens along ideological, ethnic and class differences. In addition, the digital disruption that has occasioned economic hemorrhage in the media industry is proving to be a threat to the public information ecosystem as news media organisations are struggling with their business models, scaling down coverage at best or resorting to superficial and simplistic coverage of these global challenges at worst.
Critics also aver that media enterprises are businesses owned by profit-making entrepreneurs. In reality, the media industry is a unique industry and the balance between the commercial interest of the media and the public interest function makes the media a critical part of the whole that makes society a better place. Humanity needs to be informed on the current global challenges and the media is the principal source of information ownership and business model notwithstanding.
It is the reason why the media invested in sending journalists to Sharm El-Sheikh to cover COP 27 as World leaders trooped to Egypt to discuss the devastating effects of climate change. Big on the agenda as always was mobilisation of governments, conversations with the private sector players, allocation and distribution of resources and funding the civil society organisations. But from Glasgow in 2021 to Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in 2022, the adaptive and mitigative measures will need more than the extraordinary collaborations and commitments. The focus needs to shift to a new world order in combating global warming and journalism and generally the art of storytelling is well poised to be at the cutting edge of leading innovative and sustainable solutions that are rooted in local knowledge and everyday activities of native people in different localities.
To a large extent that would mean running away from informing people of the events that happen to tell stories that draw from the realities of the opportunities and challenges that confront locals in different parts of the globe. This kind of journalism will go beyond the traditional values of newness, drama and globality and focus on the overarching goal of informing local communities and helping these communities find local solutions to global challenges.
In doing so storytellers have to be – not only innovative – but also adept at adapting and appropriating relevant technology in storytelling and engaging the communities by globalising the local experiences and localising the global experiences in such a way that the consumers find value in engaging with storytellers. News is one of the mainstay functions of media houses, but certainly not the only one, and if news informs the citizenry through both the surveillance and correlation function, then media houses need to reimagine this function and innovatively inform through engaging stories that people would be willing to go back to.
Social media live functionalities by Facebook, YouTube and other platforms like Twitter and Instagram have certainly taken over the surveillance function and they can inform us instantaneously as events unfold and give us that interactivity that the “young illiberal progressives” love. But legacy media has the privilege of access to authority and the capacity to dig deep and give another layer of context to what is new, expound on it to global proportion and most importantly add the wit that creates drama and the stories that can compel action and provoke much deeper conversations. Such approaches in informing the society portend pathways that can usher us to journalism that is sustainable, resilient and better suited contribute to democratic, resilient and thriving societies.
These conversations have been explored and different experiences and success stories discoursed at this year’s East African Storytelling Festival dubbed “#EastFest2022” by Aga Khan University’s Media Innovation Centre and DW Akademie in partnership with Media Challenge Initiative that hosted this year’s event. The just concluded event was a spectacle of splendour, colour and illuminating conversations themed – local change, global impact: building informed and thriving communities through journalism – and this could not have come at a more opportune time as the world needs innovative ways of informing communities.
In Kenya a new government is in place, and it has come on board with the vibrancy that characterises all new governments that get into power. Suffice to note, most of the leaders in the new dispensation have been vocal in pronouncing what appear to be policy statements. One that is policy that is strikingly important is the ICT Cabinet Secretary’s unveiling of the Konza Agency.
This agency is poised to create tech-based job opportunities. Konza Technopolis Development Authority is the implementing agency under the Ministry of Information Communications and Technology that aside from creating jobs, will play an important role in science, technology and innovation to enhance utilization of the scientific revolution in improving production and productivity in all sectors.
Innovative storytelling out to inform local communities and have global impacts hope that this agency coupled with free access to the internet as decreed by the president will extend to supporting innovative storytelling and boosting the capacity of the citizenry to engage with the new government on economic development.
A recent study by the Media Innovation Centre at Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications also established that media houses whose significant chunks of revenues are drawn from government advertising or government support significantly have better financial performance and survived the COVID-19 disruption with the least losses in revenues.
Conversations on innovative storytelling, government support of the storytellers and more nuanced engagements with local issues in building informed and thriving communities are nigh.