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The digitization of media continues with kicks, yells and screams

28 March 2014 / 14:03:10  GRReporter
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Ivan Petkov

Billionaire Bill Gates, who is still the richest man on the planet (his wealth has increased by $ 9 billion in 2013 to $ 76 billion) believes that there will be major changes in the labour market and forecasts that "within 20 years, many jobs will be replaced by software." The creator of Microsoft adds that almost none of the participants in the labour market is ready for this radical change, including governments and countries.

However, not within 20 years but right now there are drastic changes in the conditions of the activities related to public relations. We can find many of Bill Gates’ forecasts in this process, namely, its association with the "automation" of PR activities on the Internet, and not only.

If we turn back to see how the digitization processes of traditional media took place, which are continuing with different intensity and regional specificity around the world, we can use the following exuberant words: kicks, yells and screams. This is one of the most difficult and long lasting changes in the history of modern media ever. Apparently, the process will expand and if we turn back to the predictions made by Mr. Gates, it will cover activities performed by drivers, waiters and nurses, which, at present, we cannot associate directly with new technologies.
Let us return to the present and, in particular, to PR activities. We cannot avoid the fact that the change is coming and it is real. Public relations are part of the modern world, especially with the advent and rise of social networks, but actually, they have not changed very much from what they were before the digital age. They are still a kind of "manual" and "craft" work that uses tools like Twitter and counts the "Likes" on the Facebook wall, according to famous journalist and blogger Tom Foremski.

Why is the technological component so important in an activity that apparently manages well without it? The answer is quite clear, namely that without automated technical tools, PR activities cannot increase their presence without increasing the resources put in them. In other words, if you want to cover a large audience you should hire more people. The latter should not be a problem in itself if it will increase profits but, there is always a "but", PR activities are compared with online advertising, SEO optimization and marketing research in terms of expenses. A significant part of the processes in many of these activities is automated, which immediately increases the profit-investment ratio and puts public relations in a quite expensive and disadvantageous position.

Public relations are more art than science, but that does not mean that technological tools to improve their efficiency and competitiveness cannot be introduced in them. Let me put it this way, like in the manufacture of gunpowder, the mix of precise components in public relations is of great importance. The availability of content from professional media, user feedback, and a machine-generated content in addition to all this, produces the explosive effect of a successful media. However, if one of the components is missing, then the result is a hiss with an unpleasant odour. Beyond the metaphor, PR activities should be measured by their effect and they in no case should be art for art's sake.
Since the middle of last year, Google has changed its terms of websites whereby all links intended to manipulate the PageRank index of a website/page or to "bring it to the fore" when searching in Google, can be considered an exchange of links and violation of Google terms respectively. Since links are the most common tool used by PR agencies, we can say that the search for new methods of automation is essential for these agencies.

These companies need urgent investment in new technologies that will enable them to compete. What will these technologies be? What technologies will be applicable to the specifics of PR activities on the Internet? This has yet to find an answer. One thing is clear, namely that the technologies that will allow greater efficiency without the need of hiring additional staff are underway, just make sure you are not standing in their way and avoid interfering with them.
At the beginning of the article, I mentioned the painful changes in the media as a result of digitization. However, one area in which the development of the media is at a standstill is discrimination by gender and ethnicity. Experts note that the main profile of the American journalist has not changed for decades and it consists of a very terse description: white male. This stereotype weighs as the sword of Damocles even among the most progressive and innovative start-up media companies that have recently appeared on the market. This discriminatory stereotype affects new media like FiveThirtyEight, Vox, First Look Media and a few others. The start-up media that are about to become emblematic of the digital age seem unable to break the status quo, albeit innovative in many ways.

Recent studies show that the percentage of minorities and women in news editorial offices is much lower and does not correspond to the demographic realities. It is alarming that these figures have remained unchanged over the past decade. It should be assumed that this upward trend would alarm and lead to changes but it seems that, in practice, news editorial offices are more than happy with the current situation.

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