Mana Treelayapewat, dean of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce's School of Communication Arts, explains the challenges faced by today's journalism students
New media technology such as social networking and media-sharing websites have brought immense changes in recent years not only to the business world but also to the field of journalism, both academic and professional.
No one is more aware of this than Mana Treelayapewat, dean of the School of Communication Arts at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce. Quick to realise the impact technology would have on mainstream journalism almost as soon as Facebook was born, he immediately looked at ways he could apply this new trend to the faculty’s teaching approach.
“It was obvious that journalists, both those active in the media and those teaching, would have to change their mindsets and embrace digital thinking,” he says, adding that people have already changed their behaviour from passive to active in the way they receive news and no longer hesitate to check and criticise the reports of professional journalists.
“Credibility and trustworthiness are at the very core of journalism. Even though in this social media era anyone can produce or create content, journalists have a vital role in verifying information and data, investigating the story, setting checks and balances as well as being fair to people in the news. If they do not do this, people will respond via their own media – the social media – and the journalist’s credibility and trustworthiness will be reduced,” Mana says.
Digital technology has given the people the power to destroy the media’s traditional role of selecting the news worthy of report. Social media, mobile Internet and smartphones allow people to choose the news they want to consume anywhere and at any time.
“We have moved from being platform centric to content centric. Incidents or events not presented as news by the mainstream media now gain attention if that is what the people want. Journalists must change their mindsets if they are going to survive,” Mana continues.
That means knowing the platforms readers are heading to for the news – print, online, the social networks or other media. Once that knowledge if acquired, they must then develop their skills to produce news content in all the different presentations and, further more, do so in a way that will make them stand out from other media outlets.
“The core of journalism has not changed but there is a need for improvement in the way we tell the story. Here at the university we train our students to develop content in the different storytelling formats to serve the different media platforms. For example, we ask them to develop content, on the same topic, in written format for the print media and for different social media platforms like 30-second video clips and web board postings,” Mana explains.
The aim is to allow journalism students to experience the real world of communication in the digital era.
Mana too has had to work hard to ensure he has user experience in all kinds of media platforms and says he sees three main trends in the journalism of the future: engagement, storytelling and data journalism.
“More engagement is needed if mainstream journalists are to develop relationships with readers and viewers. That engagement should turn audiences into not just sources but partners in reporting the news. This approach has yet to come to Thailand but we are already seeing it in the foreign media. Social networking is an important tool for journalists to achieve this kind of engagement,” he says.
Thai journalists are however paying attention to storytelling, including through drone journalism and immersive journalism. Another new format of news presentation likely to be popular in the future is interactive journalism. The new format of news storytelling helps the subjects to be more easily understood, more interesting, and have greater input from the readers.
Mana also sees big data, which are empowered by social media, as leading journalists to work with data journalism. “This is more than presenting finished data such as survey results or statistics released by research teams and the like. Journalists can mesh big data with their investigative data in order to develop news topics that are meaningful.
Once a dirty word in the mainstream media, brand journalism, also known as content marketing, is another trend and one that reporters should also learn.
“Brand journalism can be blended into news, articles, and features as long as it is made clear to the reader that this is sponsored content,” he says.
“We rarely see this kind of brand journalism in the print media but there’s plenty of it on the news websites. Branded journalism with sponsor content declaration is fair to the reader. But reporters need to balance journalism ethics and marketing needs when developing such stories.”
Mana is among the founders of the Journalism of the Future community on Facebook. With 820 members, it is a good place for academics in the communication field and journalists to share, exchange and learn together. The group also organises seminars that examine the trends in journalism, now and in the future.
“We need to be always learning and sharing our knowledge,” says Mana. “All these new approaches to telling the news must also be taught in our media schools.”