By Enoch Sithole:
The role of digital technologies in communication dominated presentations and discussions at the SA Communication Association (SACOMM), held at Wits University in September. 

Over 70 papers presented at the conference discussed different aspects of digital technologies in communication, under the theme “Unravelling Big Tech: Power and the Global South.” 

However, the continent’s researchers were lagging behind when it came to studying digital transformation, said Dr Henri-Count Evans of the University of Eswatini. While research on digital transformation and journalism is growing, there is no study that mapped this growth over time and its thematic structure and evolution, said Dr Evans.

Out of 506 authors on digital transformation and journalism, African countries had only 13 contributions. “Bibliometric mapping of research activity and scientific performance on digital transformation and journalism shows that there is a dearth in research on the topic in Africa, with little coverage focusing on South Africa, Namibia, and Ghana and Nigeria,” said Dr Evans. 

Delivering his paper titled Digital Transformations and the Changing Journalistic Practices and Business Models, Dr Evans said the advent of the internet and associated technologies leading to the “Internet of Things” had changed the way information is produced, distributed, and consumed. “The internet and associated technologies have led to (trans)formations in journalism, with disruptions affecting how newsrooms and journalists produce and disseminate news and also how audiences consume news,” said Dr Evans.

Concerns were raised that digital technologies had put the media sector in a precarious situation, leading to the need to rethink journalism in the Global South. 

Internet publishing was robbing the country’s media of much needed income in a situation where 75% of online advertising went to Google, said Wits University’s Prof Glenda Daniels. 

Wits Centre for Journalism’s Prof Franz Krüger told the gathering that digital technologies had disrupted the world of journalism and there was a need for empirical research to fully understand the interruption. 

Students needed to be job ready, equipped with digital skills and be able to work in multiple platforms, said Dr Theodora Dame Adjin-Tettey of the University of Ghana. Journalists should also be trained in ethics, fact checking and entrepreneurship, “to make money from their skills,” the conference heard. 

Decolonisation also took centre stage in various panels, with speakers calling for the decolonisation of journalism education. However, Unisa’s Dr Julie Reid told the conference that the decolonial agenda was not fully articulated.  

Prof Daniels told the gathering that decolonising journalism education was not worthless even if workplaces lag behind as it could gradually inculcate progressive thinking.