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One cannot overemphasize the place of the
mass media in contemporary society. Since its beginnings, the mass media has
grown exponentially in size and influence, because of constant innovations in technology
that supports their operations. Consequently, from the days of newspapers, to
radio, to television, and since the 1980s, the Internet, the mass media has
undergone several transformations and transmutations which have impacted
significantly on its role and place in society (Straubhaar & LaRose, 2002).
The most current trend in mass media technology is the internet as well as
mobile phones and other related technologies that can be classified as ‘new
media’ (Sunday, 2008).

At the time when newspapers
were the main method of getting news, journalists led conversations. Conversations
are still driven by journalists, but as more people get their news via social media,
it is influencers – people you trust enough to follow – who spread them. The rise
of the internet and social web has allowed more people to become influencers, sometimes
in very niche segments with a huge online audience. There are different types of
influencers. An editor of newspaper is arguably as much an influencer as a
celebrity, as is an academic or highly viewed YouTuber as PewDiePie. The line between
traditional media and social media is blurring as well as the line between what
constitutes ‘media outreach’ through a journalist versus ‘social media
influencer outreach’.

There are various meanings of the term convergence.
However, most definitions seem to have a common ground, stating that it is the
blending of old media, (traditional media such as magazines, newspapers,
television, and radio) with new media (computers and the Internet) to deliver
content. It is using technology to provide content on various platforms through
computer driven distribution systems. The term convergence is elusive and is
used in several contexts, which is often ambiguous in its definition. Jenkins
(2001) states convergence occurs on multiple levels through five processes:
technological, economic, social, global, and cultural convergence. Seib (2001) posits,
“convergence involves marrying the slick format of television to the
almost infinite information-providing capacity of the Internet” (p.
7).

Convergence is the window of opportunity for
traditional media to align itself with technologies of the 21st century. The
digitization of media and information technology and the ensuing transformation
of communication media are major contributors to convergence (Gershon 2000;
Fidler 1997).

The ACMA defines media convergence as
‘the phenomenon where digitization of content, as well as standards and technologies
for the carriage and display of digital content, are blurring the traditional
distinctions between broadcasting and other media across all elements of the
supply chain, for content generation, aggregation, distribution and audiences’.
The ACMA identifies a key consequence of convergence for consumers as being a
substantial increase in ‘the availability of media content online – from
broadcasters, news organizations, social media sites, iTunes and YouTube, to
name a few of the main media sources – on an increasing array of connected
devices and screens. The choice of devices for accessing the internet and 3G
and wireless broadband networks is also giving users flexibility in how and
where they consume media’.

Deuze (2004) looks at the definition
of convergence from the position of ‘multimedia journalism’. This, according to
him, is the integration and presentation of media products through different
media. He also refers as the horizontal integration of media, which in this
case involves both traditional and digital media. This bears some semblance to
cross media ownership, where one establishment (or owner) operates different
media forms (Raufu, 2003).

In the early days in print and broadcast
newsrooms, access to the Internet at workstations was not widespread; today in
the world of computer-assisted reporting it is the norm. Amobi (2014)
identifies several benefits of media convergence. Citing Deuze (2004) and
Verweij (2009), she posits that the convergence “offers more opportunities for
the public to be more informed and involved in a story, and offer the reporter
and the editor more integrated tools to tell the story” (Amobi, 2014:25). She
adds that convergence has transformed media organizations from what she termed
‘lone rangers’ into multimedia ‘team players’, ultimately enhancing their
output. Convergence promotes interactively, she highlights, and aids to combine
to greater effect the “depth of newspaper coverage, the immediacy of
television, and the interactivity of the Web”. The internet, mobile phones,
emails, chat rooms and so on are examples of new media. In each of their own
way, these types of new media have an effect in media relations practice. They enable media relations practitioners
to work creatively, efficiently and effectively which would bring about
confidence in not only the media but also the public. With the new media, creating,
publishing, distributing and consuming media content is democratized. This
means that everyone, and anyone, who has the access and means to new media
technology can create and control the dissemination of media messages.

The new media enhances two-way communication
which is the core of good media relations. Ayankojo (2001) states that “there are chat rooms for virtual
discussion where users have opportunities to talk on-line” with organizations that
have websites. Messages sent in a
chat room appear almost in real time on the devices of other users in the same
chat room. New media also encourage feedback and interactivity and get
immediate feedback as the case maybe. Lievrouw
and Livingstone (2006) state that new media give users the means to generate,
seek and share content selectively, and to interact with other individuals and
groups on a scale that was impracticable with traditional means.” In short, the
immediacy, responsiveness and social presence of interaction in most new media
constitute a huge opportunity for media relations.

In this digital age, influencers have evolved which
now has a new meaning for the public relations industry. Public relations
professionals now place great emphasis on influencers as they are constantly
looking for influential people to advocate for their clients. In today’s environment, there is a
constant mix of traditional and non-traditional influencers. Most influencers aren’t
journalists, and not all journalists are influencers. But sometimes their
powers are combined in a super-influential hybrid who drives conversations.