Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Egypt's protest down to good ol fashion 1st gen social media - Television

David training videojournalists in Cairo on a 3 year programme

As a journademic - an academic and professional onliner/ videojournalist I shouldn't be so hasty, but as I write this, hundreds of academic papers are about to be set in train.

The subject matter- prescribing Web 2.0 and social media as the agent for change in Egypt. It's time to be cautious.

For the last three years I have been in and out of Cairo;  last year also taking in Beirut training professional journalists in videojournalism and an understanding of online media.

The latter has spawned a citadel of an industry and while there's no denying the impact blogs, FB, Youtube and Twitter have had, yet often we fail to realise perception like belief is interpretive and selective. This is an Aristolean notion.

David speaking to the Deputy Dean of Communications at Cairo University about the impact of social media
The way we see the world is formulated through our own framework of perception. Empirical studies might tell us otherwise, but collecting that data is often difficult to come by.

But this set of stats did catch my attention. Its January figures revealing the Middle East becoming an engine for social media and twitter.

It requires rigorous examination before SM advocates attach cause and effect towards the recent demonstrations.

The protests that emerged in Egypt, a very likely catalyst from Tunisia and the ousting of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power, I would suggest were the result of that old first generation of social media - Television.

What's my hypothesis.  Firstly and less we forget television is still a dominant media and social glue, certainly in particular territories around the world.

It's not uncommon to pass by a diner in Cairo and find swathes of people, mainly men, gathered around the television in the corner, discussing politics and football.

This shot here is of one my trainee videojournalists shooting in an eaterie which has a television and no doubt would have been on to show the Tunisia's events.
Videojourmnalists shooting in the streets

More pertinent, as this picture below illustrates, television is as common place as the homes they're attached to. This shot was taken from the 27th floor of Nile TV - state Television.

It's a restricted floor, but on my last training assignment we were given access. What amazed me as one of the journalists outlined, was the level of sat dishes in areas, including the deprived zones in down town Cairo.
Sat TV City in urban deprived areas of Cairo

Social Media Mk1
International Networks such as Al Jazeera and a host of others are the viewing staple, at least from my observations. This coupled with the mobile phone makes for a powerful social media.

And social it is, for it's around the campfire of the television and mobile phones (temporary immobile) where big society is discussed.  The Net I contend is the echo chamber, at least for the web savvy.

So my hunch from the twitter stats earlier is not that SMers were gearing up for a mass online campaign, but that that more and more users (young or savvy) are discovering Social Media ( a tipping point)  at a rate faster than in territories such as Europe.

That's not surprising as the latter territories reach saturation.

For young people I have come across at the American and Cairo university, yes social media has its currency, but it doesn't appear to possess the same dependencies with other groups as might be the case in advanced net democracies - where you can say what you want.

That's not to say Egypt doesn't have some of the most savvy social networkers around and mobile phone photography is not embedded, but, that if you were a social media trainer, you'd find attentive ears educating outside of the student classes.

David teaching social media to programme makers and graduate producers  at Nile TV

Curiously then in shutting down the net, the authorities had failed to realise TV had done most of the initial work. Postings to the web took the campaign past the geo-locations of Egypt into advanced user bases, where Net content is aggressively shared and played back on television as seen on Sky, CNN, Aljazeera and BBC  TV.

Google and Twitter's voice to text strategy at making the web a linchpin is an interesting case of social media reacting quickly to integrate events but in reality, again it's mainly the student/urban classes.

Here's an interesting question then. If you're a TV network exec and you know this, how do you  maintain the level of interest in television at a time when apple and google are looking to get in on sat platforms with net videos et al.

Because there's still strong evidence that television's narrative of informing, rather than YouTube's pick and mix is still a big draw, particularly for those who find wading through videos for something appropriate a bind.

Is there a future therefore for social media and videojournalism in what I might call fixed and opt in programming? One that can work just as well on the television set as it does online?

More on that in my next post.