The face of the modern news media continues to change, in part driven by the emergence of new technology platforms. It has also been influenced by shifting generational consumption patterns and the continued polarization of politics.
I recently sat with Zinhle Eassmuah of NowThis, a mobile video news brand that launched in 2012 for young people, to learn more about how technology will change the news in the months ahead. Eassmuah is a correspondent for NowThis and the host of its daily evening news show on Facebook called KnowThis.
What are the high-level changes happening in the news media today?
Today’s digital media news industry requires agility, consistency and creativity. The digital media news space has grown exponentially in the last five to ten years. [Before], digital outlets were viewed more as risky experiments. Today, they’re among the leading newsrooms.
Local news outlets continue striving to keep up with the need for mobile-compatible, multimedia content. It can be hard to pivot so quickly. Plus, it’s expensive. Larger companies are working to keep up with the latest tech changes while building brands and structures that last.
What impact has technology had on the news media and coverage?
The tools we use to push out content have only expanded and refined. And the landscape of content creators has only gotten more crowded.
Changes in technology manifest in social movements. The ‘Arab Spring’ happened nearly nine years ago. There’s been Standing Rock, Occupy Wall Street, #BlackLivesMatter movement and #March4OurLives — each movement more informed by technology than the previous.
I point out these movements because they challenged the industry to think differently about where content comes from, who consumes it and how to make news digestible for different audiences.
What specific technologies are changing the news industry and how?
Social [media] has brought back the dialogue in media and enabled audiences to react, “like,” retweet, comment and add hashtags. [This means] more citizens are enabled to participate in the news process.
Data-informed journalism is on the rise — from journalism classrooms to the business conference rooms. Given our massive consumption data, we are better able to identify which topics our audiences care deeply about and are able to meet them on the different platforms where they’re spending their time — whether that’s on Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Instagram. These data points make our business more adaptable and our content more accurate.
From the technical video production end, enhanced tech enables us to film, edit and design in more ways than ever before. One of the most recognizable packages that we produced within the last year highlighted then-Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke’s stance on NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem. [It] reflects our ability to identify a unique cultural moment, contextualize it for our viewers, and distribute it for massive reach.
However; our distribution strategy and content packaging vary by platform. [For example], a February 2019 NowThis video of U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez highlighting America’s current campaign finance laws, amassed nearly 70 million views across platforms — while reaching different audiences, and having different platform post-copy and distribution strategies.
How have mobile phones in particular changed the consumption or creation of news?
Developments in mobile technology have [made it possible] for citizens to get journalists’ attention and for journalists to make direct contacts.
While having the financial resources to access specific tech — like smartphones — does limit who is able to see what content, those who have smartphones have contributed to the rise of ‘citizen journalists’ in our industry. Everyday people are often stepping up as first-to-the-scene documentarians.
What’s your day-to-day like within the outlet?
[As the host of KnowThis], I pitch stories, interview and book guests, and deliver our stories daily, in addition to representing the company externally.
As a correspondent, I chase investigative and original long-form stories around the country. In the field, I scout stories, interview, script and collaborate with our team to create long-form reports. Those span politics, culture and social issue–focused stories.
How did you get started?
I’ve always loved stories, and in my younger years, I fell in love with photography. As I learned the art of visual storytelling, I began hosting content in a number of capacities.
I earned my undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. I then dipped my hands in as many pots as possible — non-profits, fellowships, performance art, network news, independent and freelance production, before earning an MA in Media and Strategic Communication, and completing an intensive documentary filmmaking program.
[I believe] storytelling is intersectional, and the more experiences and skills you have, the more informed your storytelling can be.
Did you pursue a job in media knowing how important technology would become?
Most professions today are shaped in some way by technology. It’s such a large part of our daily personal lives and naturally informs what we do professionally.
I always knew I’d have jobs that didn’t exist yet. Throughout my schooling, I recognized that the development of technology was far outpacing [my] career path in media.
I don’t view my career as dependent on tech as much as it is enhanced by it. My work as a journalist, filmmaker and host is enhanced by the tools that tech enables me to use.
Is there a place for or do we need more women in the field today?
Absolutely! Like so many industries, newsrooms and digital media can be male-dominated — particularly at the senior leadership level. More women should consider this profession.
Shout out to the NowThis studio camera crew, which is comprised entirely of women!
Women can be minimized to just a pretty face on camera. Many people presume women, and specifically me, as a black woman, lack the technical knowledge. I’m glad I got my start with intense production behind the camera.
Given the socioeconomic disparities that exist in our country, it’s harder for people of color to get the access and training in this field. It’s hard — not impossible — but it is very hard.
The expectation of unpaid media internships for students means aspiring student journalists have to work upwards of three jobs and overload on credits to get through school early or on-time, pay for bills, and gain media experience.
So yes, more [women] should think of joining this field, and we should remember the reasons it may be difficult for certain communities to enter it.