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PAPER MOON

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White


The generational shift in acquiring news from print and broadcast media to digital platforms in recent years has been well-documented. PEW Research in the USA gave these figures from 2015, showing a 7% decline in newspapers circulations, both print and digital, but their data reveals that dramatic age differences exist, with those under 30 much less likely than those 30+ to watch any of the three programming streams.

 

Instead, younger adults are more likely to name social media as a main source of news. Even beyond the young, fully 62% of U.S. adults overall now get news on social media sites – many of which took steps over the last year to enhance their streaming video capabilities.

“In 2015, the newspaper sector had perhaps the worst year since the recession and its immediate aftermath. Average weekday newspaper circulation, print and digital combined, fell another 7% in 2015, the greatest decline since 2010. While digital circulation crept up slightly (2% for weekday), it accounts for only 22% of total circulation.

And any digital subscription gains or traffic increases have still not translated into game-changing revenue solutions. In 2015, total advertising revenue among publicly traded companies declined nearly 8%, including losses not just in print, but digital as well.”  The same survey found that just 5% of U.S. adults named print newspapers as their “most helpful” source on the election – trailing nearly every other category by wide margins, including cable, local and national TV, radio, social media and news websites.


This shift has repercussions far beyond a decline in hard-copy newspaper production.  Staff numbers have also decreased as more newsroom staff are let go, with figures from 2014 showing a decline of 10 percent.  This is reflected in dropping advertising revenue which quickly becomes a vicious circle – less revenue, less staff, less staff, smaller readership, smaller readership, less advertising revenue. 

Television-based news sectors also face similar challenges  but have benefitted from the fact that despite all the growth in digital, including a surge in digital  video developments over the last year, large swathes of the public – and thus advertisers – remain drawn to that square box in the room resulting in an overall growth in both cable/satellite and network TV, all of which saw revenue growth  of an average of 10%; surely no coincidence that it is the same figure as that of laid-off print newsroom staff?  It may not last. 

In spite of a surge in prime time viewing figures boosted by a contentious presidential campaign which proved compulsive primne-time viewing, as many as one in seven Americans have turned away from cable or satellite TV subscriptions in favour of digital and streamed news and entertainment.

But as the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. The growing digital video ad market, which has attracted the interest of publishers, means that what has been bad news for the conventional news producers has been very good news indeed for the tech industry.  Increasingly, data suggests the impact these technology companies are having on the business of journalism goes far beyond the financial side, to the very core elements of the news industry itself.

In the pre-digital era, journalism organisations largely controlled the news products and services from beginning to end, including original reporting, writing and production, packaging and delivery, audience experience and editorial selection. Over time, technology companies such as Facebook and Apple have become an integral, if not dominant player in most of these arenas, supplanting the choices and aims of news outlets with their own choices and goals.

The ties that now bind these tech companies to publishers began in many ways as lifelines for news organisations struggling to find their way in a new world. First tech companies created new pathways for distribution in the form of search engines and email. The next industry overlap involved the financial model, with the creation of ad networks and app stores, followed by developments that affect audience engagement (Instant Articles, Apple News and Google’s AMP).

Now, the recent accusations regarding Facebook editors’ possible involvement in “trending topics” selections have shined a spotlight on technology companies’ integral role in the editorial process. The accusations, whether true or not, highlighted the human element involved in any machine learning tool, not only Facebook’s. The messaging app Snapchat reports having about 75 editorial-level staff members and announced in mid-May that they will begin using an algorithm for news story selections.

It is clear that a seismic shift is taking place, Original reporting and writing are the two industry roles largely left to news organisations but these conventional methodologies and practices are beginning to seem old hat.  In just the past year there were some exciting developments and experiments in the original reporting and storytelling in the digital realm.

Several established news outlets including The New York Times and The Des Moines Register are experimenting with virtual reality journalism that can let consumers “experience” the news themselves; others like  the Washington Post and Quartz have built “chatbots,” which (like Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana) provide personalised, interactive headlines through texts or mobile messaging services; and Univision Digital launched  Univision Beta, in collaboration with MIT – experimenting with new ways to tell stories, especially on social and messaging platforms .


What is taking place is nothing short of a revolution in news and actuality reporting and receiving.  What began as a marriage of true minds between the editorial news gatherers and the high-tech disseminators is beginning to seem more like a Trojan Horse-style invasion by stealth.  Social media and technology companies are superceding the very news organisations they were recruited to assist and as the latter is now so slavishly dependent on the former, their ultimate dominance is a foregone conclusion.


It surely is a Brave New Publishing World out there but there is a ray of hope and it is this:  that you, the reader of this column and this paper who prove that even now, there are those who still enjoy a hardcopy world in black and white, with just a splash of colour now thrown in as well.

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Columns

Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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