Always on the lookout for what’s hip, hot and happening, Flow Communications gave clients the inside track on the metaverse days before Mark Zuckerberg rebranded Facebook and declared, “I believe the metaverse is the next chapter for the internet.”
It was all happening during our virtual Flow Connect client get-together in late October, where communications trends were discussed and University of the Witwatersrand journalism professor and author Anton Harber provided some sharp insights into the state of the South African media landscape.
During the lively and informal two-hour session, Flow’s trend spotters shared snapshots of trends such as “mobile first” design, the rise of values-led work, the power of video storytelling, the future of chatbots and the increasing currency of thought leadership.
Using AI to meta your pod
Flow chief technical officer Richard Frank gazed into his crystal ball to chart the hybrid virtual meetings of the future, driven by the rise in flexible and remote working. Frank described new video meeting technology whereby artificial intelligence will “pick out” faces in a company boardroom and display them individually on one’s screen, resulting in everyone being “first-class participants” with an equal presence in any meeting.
The most fascinating social media trend of the near future is arguably the rise of the metaverse, said Flow director of content Edwina van der Burg. We can look forward to 3D online worlds in which people interact with each other and share experiences (such as watching movies) in real time, with companies such as Facebook (or, rather, Meta) investing heavily in this technology.
Podcasts are also on the rise, she said, with this audio format showing consistent growth around the world. “Advertisers are turning away from traditional advertising mediums to podcasts, which can target an audience who are unlikely to skip ads or switch channels. Brands should be trying to get a piece of that pie, with the 50-plus age range being the fastest-growing podcast audience, mainly listening to them while commuting or working out.”
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Guest speaker Harber spoke about his recent book, So, For the Record, which chronicles the highs and lows of South African journalism during the era of state capture, using it as a starting point to discuss the state of flux that the news media currently finds itself in.
The lows, as he explained, included the cautionary tale of how the Sunday Times, “our biggest and strongest and most influential newspaper”, published a series of insufficiently fact-checked stories that effectively did the dirty work of corrupt politicians and caused untold reputational damage.
The investigative journalists had become “arrogant” due to having so much power in the newsroom, and “went off the rails”. Newspapers and journalists were more powerful back then, Harber noted, but this has now fundamentally shifted.
“The rise of the internet and social media has changed the way journalists work. It has made them more accountable and has given more power to the public to challenge them .... It’s also reduced their power to set the national political and news agenda – as social media started to set the agenda.”
Among the media highs of the past decade was the #GuptaLeaks investigation, Harber said. The discovery of an incriminating hard drive led to a productive partnership between the Daily Maverick, amaBhungane and News24, where investigative and data journalism merged to produce an explosive exposé of state capture. Such collaborations are vital to the health of democracy, Harber said.
Furthermore, new models of funding journalism must be explored, he said, given the “dire” state of newsrooms that are in a “downward spiral” of cutting costs, declining circulation and plummeting advertising revenue. “To get people to pay for news on the internet, you need to produce good content … The critical test for the survival of news operations has to be online subscriptions.”
Urging South Africans to invest in supporting quality reporting, he underscored the importance of investigative journalism that holds to account the private and public sectors, and adds value to society and the economy. “We need greater accountability if we want to fix our economy.”