Ten years ago, digital media was a rare, but emerging platform, being used to share news and other information with the public. Since then, it has continued to expand dramatically in Canada.
Aboriginal journalist Connie Walker has a solid grasp on this trend. Working with CBC as their lead reporter in the online Aboriginal community, Connie specializes in digital media and knows the many different formats it can be used in, such as video, print, and even podcasts.
“It’s really exciting to think about digital media and there is not really a ‘set in stone’ definition for what it can be,” says Connie.
As a graduate from the Indian Communication Arts (INCA) program at the First Nations University of Canada (FNUniv), Connie says that when she was a student in the early 2000s, there was not much for digital media.
“Email was still kind of new when I started INCA,” says Connie. “We were obviously on computers and we may have had a website at that point, but we were mainly focused on radio, television, and print.”
Connie is excited that current INCA students are learning mostly about digital media.
“There are fundamentals that are timeless in a way but I would hope you guys (current INCA students) are learning mostly about the digital platform and how it is transforming Indigenous representation in mainstream media,” says Connie.
However, not only are Aboriginal people being represented more in digital media, the digital platform continues to grow among all Canadians.
In 2014, the Canadian entertainment and media market was worth 47.9 billion dollars and it is estimated that it will grow to 61.2 billion by 2019. Statistics also show that the average Canadian spends 76 hours online per month. (Source: www.cmf-fmc.ca/about-cmf/industry-research/industry-quick-facts/)
Although digital media has become more important, Connie had no idea how large of an impact the stories had through the use of a digital platform until 2012 when she worked on a television project called 8th Fire.
“I was one of the producers on the 8th Fire series and it was the first time in my career where we had prime time television to focus exclusively on aboriginal people,” says Connie.
The television project consisted of four, one-hour long documentaries that focused completely on aboriginal content.
While there was supposed to be five documentaries, the producers decided to use some of the money that they had been granted for the series to create an online digital home for 8th Fire. The website combined with the television series created an instantaneous response on social media.
The show bought people from all over the country together, which was rare at that time. The 8th Fire series went on to help inspire CBC Aboriginal.
“A benefit (of digital media) is having the immediate interaction with your audience,” she says. “The reaction from the public is immediate. It only takes minutes for media outlets to quickly see what resonates with their viewers and what does not.”
Connie says this allows journalism to become more diverse and has proven there is an audience for stories that have many viewpoints and perspectives.
However, a major flaw in digital media is the content, she said.
“The way we consume media now is so different,” explains Connie. “You have literally seconds to capture someone’s attention in an online story and if you don’t, that’s it. They clicked on to something else and they may or may not come back.”
Despite its drawbacks, digital media continues to grow and so does social media. Connie speculates that social media may be the future of journalism and the various ways people find information.
“You don’t go to CBC.Com/news or LeaderPost.com,” says Connie. “A lot of information is found on social media. You’re being referred to stories based on your likes and what your friends share on social media.”
In fact, 63% of Canadians connect to social media each month. (Source: www.cmf-fmc.ca/about-cmf/industry-research/industry-quick-facts/)
However, Connie advises people be aware of what they post on social media.
“If an account is meant for work, you should not be posting personal things on that account and even personal accounts have to become professional,” says Connie.
In addition, Connie advises journalists, especially young journalists, to stay open to learning new things and having new experience.
“I’m at a point now where I can focus exclusively on indigenous stories but for a long time,” says Connie. “I wasn’t doing that. I was doing a variety of other things and I’ve had so many different jobs at CBC. I’ve worked in news, current affairs, documentary, and lifestyle, news programming, investigative and digital.”
Even if a young journalist starts out in an area that they don’t like as much, Connie says that they must remember that they do not have to be there forever.
Connie has recently started working on podcasts and hopes in the future that journalists will keep evolving and coming up with ways to reach their audience.
“Digital media is changing so quickly, what are best practices today is not necessarily going to be the same tomorrow,” says Connie. “So it’s really important to jump in the game and it’s a really exciting time to be doing this.”