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Twitter will not kill journalism   

Arab News - 01 May, 2012
Author: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid

Meshari Al-Dhayedi recently joined the clamor triggered by the fear that the Twitter age has heralded the end of journalism. This kind of apprehension is nothing new, rather it is something that keeps recurring from time to time.

We are used to passing hasty judgments, such as a sports commentator claimed last week that Messi is the greatest footballer of the 21st century. How can anyone make such a comment while we have to wait 88 years more to see the end of the present century.

When I participated in a media forum in Abu Dhabi about 10 years ago, the frequently repeated sentiment I noticed there was that the age of newspaper journalism is approaching its end. Nobody present there did dispute that prediction. However, I differed with the notion and argued that newspapers would not disappear over the next 100 years, although the forms of news media might change. In fact, we should not mix up the media and the media content. The first newspaper that ever appeared was in Germany in the early 17th century and the newspapers never ceased to come out since. Other changes in the media world were mainly the developments in the methods of printing and the emergence of radio and television. However, journalists had existed even before the emergence of newspapers. For instance, Al-Jahiz (the ninth century writer born in Basra) who lived 1,200 years ago was the greatest journalist in the history.

A newspaper might not remain in a printed version always. There may come a time when a newspaper will be a folded plastic sheet as seen in the film “Minority Report” or a futuristic telephone with projected interfaces or eyeglasses which may bring in the latest news.

A newspaper or any other news media is, in fact, what its content is. The means or place where a new story appears is its medium. The mediums will be replaced keeping pace with the advancement in technology and the people’s needs. For instance, a newspaper is printed on broad sheets as it is designed for those who read it at home. On the other hand, a tabloid is printed on small sheets because it targets passengers in crowded trains. The news media could be compared to a computer device. It has changed from desktop to portable, and a device could be operated by touch or sound. However, the difference is only in the means, the service is the same on all forms of media.

We are, apparently, living with three generations of media at the same time: The conventional newspapers and televisions, the Internet media and now the social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

The furor over the “twitter” springs from the amazing information revolution accompanying it.

It is the mediapersons including religious personalities who dominate the twitter. Many of them are media figures who appear on television programs or participate in regular media events. Many of the notable religious participants are not popular figures because they do not often appear on media channels.

It is, however, certain that some of the tweeting people are fabricating their own popularity. Some of them even buy votes to create the impression that they are popular. I assure my colleagues that the ‘twitter’ will not kill newspapers. Brief tweeting messages will not kill the concept of newspaper articles, just as articles do not affect the circulation of books, or as electric lutes do not displace wooden lutes.

The great achievement of the new media is not just the expansion of the scope of writing and reading but also — more important in my view — it has enabled interaction with the readers which is impossible in the print media. Even if there is a limit of 140 letters for a message, which kills the details of an information, the message reaches the people very easily without any professional constraints. The need for the print media remains because the brevity is a defect as well as it is a distinctive feature as Sameer Ataallah argues or is disputed by Ambassador Ziyad Aldarees. It will not be enough to break an article to 20 tweets to convey the whole idea of an article.

In fact, the twitter helps the print media, and writers and journalists, as is done by the rest of the communication media, to expand the circle of reading and increase the number of readers of print articles and not the other way round. Hence, there is no justification of the fear that we have landed on a different planet and we are dealing with different creatures familiar only with brief tweets. We are living in a multimedia society. The most beautiful thing the multimedia did is not only that it enabled everyone to participate and express his or her ideas, but also encourage the younger generation to read and write, a practice that was fast dwindling because of the domination of the visual media. It also contributed to the growth of the Internet family and the young people started sending messages and articles in a single day more than the great media personalities used to produce, but of course with some reservations on the quality of the content.
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