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Friday, 16 December 2016 11:31
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Which direction for the press in the digital communication era (in the case of the Vietnamese press)

(LLCT) - The digital communication revolution has changed the role and position of the social public, which nowadays can be divided into two groups moving in opposite directions. Social media and network readership is increasing rapidly while press readership is decreasing sharply, although this decrease varies between continents, regions and countries. Readership shapes the press. The actual strength of social media has changed. Traditional press has been losing its dominant position and has given in to social media. In this context, how is the press going to develop?

We are witnessing winds of change in the media and caused by the media. The Panama Papers case did not only bring about substantial changes in investigative journalism but was also an example of the media revolution. It put areas of life, from economics and business, politics and culture to social security, as well as the media revolution, in a new state of change.

The media revolution first originated from information and communication technologies and techniques, which has produced web 2.0 and 3.0 and will produce 4.0, thereby leading the public to fundamental changes. This process has been creating a digital communication environment on a global scale.

The digital communication environment provides technical and technological foundations expanding possibilities of connectivity, information and communication at all levels and helping people understand themselves better and establish more diverse connections with the community; on that basis, spirals and levels of relationships are connected and developed into information resources which allow people to make metadiscovery within metaconnectivity or metaconnection. From here, the processes of popularization and non-popularization are interwoven and develop.

The digital communication revolution has changed the role and position of the social public, which nowadays can be divided into two groups moving in opposite directions. Instagram has more than 300 million users, WhatsApp more than 700 million users, and Facebook 1.5 billion users. Facebook is the world’s largest social network and was estimated at 350 billion USD in 2016, thus becoming the sixth largest corporation in the United States. The development of smartphones has made a considerable contribution to the social network boom. According to Statista, in 2017, nearly one-third of the world’s population will use smartphones. Picture functions and social network apps post 350 million pictures on Facebook each day. The media public has also been divided. Major daily newspapers such as the USA Today, New York Times and Washington Post in the US and the Daily Mail and Telegraph in the UK are all read on the smartphone much more on the computer. Social media and network readership is increasing rapidly while press readership is decreasing sharply, although this decrease varies between continents, regions and countries. Readership shapes the press. The actual strength of social media has changed. Traditional press has been losing its dominant position and has given in to social media. If previously the press monopolized the excitement, persuasion, guiding and influencing public opinion, nowadays these roles are mainly taken on by social media.  

In this context, how is the press going to develop?

1. Developing communication and press   

Development communication or development support communication is a relatively new concept compared to the history of press - communication industries.

There are different approaches to the concept of development communication. However, these approaches all have one thing in common: “using communication to encourage development” or communication with the mission to achieve sustainable development or communication for sustainable development.

The fundamental idea of development communication is finding ways to enable communication to serve sustainable development in each country and community, especially in developing countries where there are a lot of complicated issues, risks and dangers. According to Professor Steven Strogatz (Cornell University), social communication is likely to make its users overconcentrate on “virtual” relations at the cost of losing “real” relations in their lives. A good number of companies have had to block social networking sites because these sites cause productivity in the office to go down. According to Nucleus Research, social networking sites are responsible for at least 1.5 per cent reduction in productivity and cost companies in Britain 2.2 billion USD each year.

Most scholars and experts in development communication believe that development communication is a form of press, which requires a special approach called participatory method. They dismiss the top-down model because they do not believe this model has been able to satisfy grassroots needs(1). Melkote believes there must be a mechanism for development communication to function and he recommends a linear model of communication, i.e. participatory communication which is not only meant to serve as a source of transmitting information(2). In his Independence, Liberation, Revolution(3), Tran Van Dinh suggests a model of communication called communication and transformation, in which communication serves as a catalyst to social transformation. He believes that communication in developing countries needs to have simple forms because most people in these countries are farmers.

In their Communication: Fundamental Theories and Skills(4), the authors also mention the cycle of communication as a fundamental theory where the public are starting and finishing points in research into feedback and where the public are held in high regard. The book also clarifies interactive communication, multiple -dimensional communication and communication with public participation. However, in actual press - communication activities, these theories have only begun to attract attention.

2. From the social nature of communication to the theory of social intervention by the press  

Each continent, region or country has its own issues. However, the press in developing countries is faced with more complicated issues. This may be due to the fact that these countries are experiencing rapid, diverse changes of the process of seeking development models; issues related to development processes are increasingly diverse and complicated. Therefore, the press must cater to the transformation of the countries amid globalization and change itself to meet development needs of globalization.

The more it adapts to the above-mentioned issues, the more the press shows the social nature of development communication as a means and method of transmitting information and social exchanges, connecting society, and intervening in society.

Information, communication, social connectivity and social intervention are different levels of expression of the social nature of communication. In other words, the ultimate purpose of communication is social intervention, which means that communication, by meeting the need of the social public for information and communication, serves as a tool and method for connecting society, thereby establishing social strength for social intervention and contributing to the resolution of emerging socio-economic issues.

From the theory of social intervention of communication, the intervention of the press can be briefly described as follows: The press provides information and knowledge and create social communication forums for the public so they have more opportunities to share their knowledge, skills and experience in light of actual demands and emerging issues; on that basis, the press helps the social public to expand their understanding which serves as a basis for changing their awareness; thereby the press - communication helps to change or adjust the social attitudes and behaviors of the social public and communities in general.

The ongoing changes in communication have presented the developing press with the following issues:

There is a strong wave of immigration of the traditional press into social media. The first decade of the 21st century saw a decrease in the readerships and markets of the print press and the media in general in the US and Europe. In the second decade of the 21st century this decrease has been witnessed in Asia, though at a slower rate in India and Japan. As a matter of course, the reduction in press readerships in some countries has not only been caused by social media but also by the traditional views and ways of running the press.

The “readership shapes the press” principle is posing major challenges to the developing press because changes in the press are insufficient compared to changes in readerships. As a result, the developing press is losing its readerships and markets.

The development of communication techniques and technologies are causing distress among the public and are posing challenges to the press in terms of economics, affordability, culture, consumption habits, communicative psychology and the ability to select useful information for development.

In Vietnam, the Ministry of Information and Communication has devised a plan for 2020, when television and the radio will have switched to digital techniques and technologies. This is a considerable challenge to shifts in techniques and technologies because large investments will be needed while few press agencies can afford such shifts by themselves.

By 2015(5), there were 857 press agencies in the country, of which 199 were in the print press (86 central-level and 113 local-level agencies), 658 were magazines (521 central-level and 137 local-level magazines), and one national-level news agency. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of press agencies saw an increase of 71 agencies (five newspapers and 66 magazines).

There were 105 electronic newspapers and magazines (an increase of seven compared to 2014), of which 83 were subsidiaries of the print media and 22 were independent agencies. The total number of licensed electronic general news pages was 248. From 2011 to 2015, the number of electronic newspapers and magazines increased by 44.

There were 67 broadcasting stations (with two national ones being Vietnam Television and Radio the Voice of Vietnam), 183 free broadcasting channels (106 television channels and 77 radio channels), and 75 pay television channels. In the 2011-2015 period, some press agencies began to operate in television, marking the development of television in the times of sharing infrastructure. For example, Radio the Voice of Vietnam launched VOV TV and National Assembly television channel, the People’s Public Security Center for Broadcasting and Cinema ANTV channel, the Center for News Television of Vietnam News Agency Vnews channel, the Army Broadcasting Center National Defense channel, and the People Newspaper’s People channel.

Obviously, while world press readerships are decreasing and thousands of workers in the press have lost their jobs, the numbers of press agencies and their workers in Vietnam are increasing (mainly due to the newly established press agencies).

As far as the print media is concerned, circulations have dropped considerably. The Ho Chi Minh City Youth newspaper, which has the largest circulation in Vietnam, has seen a nearly 50 per cent drop in its circulation over the last 10 years. This is also the case with the Young People and Pioneer newspapers. The average income of journalists has seen a decline. Some press agencies even owe their reporters royalties.

The balance sheets of press agencies do not look good and their collections are decreasing while state support is being restructured to become more reasonable.

The above-mentioned situation requires the Vietnamese press to change or be restructured both in macro- and micro-level terms, i.e. across genres of media and within each media agencies. At the same time, connectivity with social media and social networking sites need to be expanded and diversified.

Given the current digital media environment, for the developing press to win the competition with social media and social networking sites, the following tasks need to be carried out:

Firstly, the press must provide the social public with timely, diverse, multidimensional information and ensure the reliability of such information. In order to do this, press agencies must reduce the size of their regular staff and increase social connectivity, ensuring that they are places of metaconnection and their journalists have integrated skills. Moreover, journalists need to ensure their ability to seek information and connect with sources of information as well as to select, evaluate and analyze information to make sure that information is selective, analyzed, evaluated and commented on so the public can have a clear understanding of ongoing events and issues. Perhaps this is an important basis for attracting the social public, building up trust among them and dominating the information market.

By doing so, the social strength and potential of the press will be enhanced. The press will dominate the market, increase their revenues and have opportunities to attract resources and innovate their techniques and technologies.

Secondly, the press needs to increase their connection with social media and social networking sites in general to create their actual strength in the digital media environment, dominate the information market and orient information. If the strength of social media and social networking sites lies in their promptness, timeliness and diversity of information, it is necessary to recognize the strength of the press being reliability and credibility of information.

Connectivity, selection, evaluation, analysis and persuasion within a social media network in general can be a method of adjustment for the press in the digital media era.

Thirdly, the press needs to increase their capacity as a monitor and challenger of society when it comes to the making and implementation of public policy and decisions related to communities, especially the fight against corruption, thereby contributing to solving climate change and environmental protection issues...

As for developing countries, the press needs to increase their monitoring and challenging capacity to ensure public policy is made and implemented for the goal of sustainable development, thereby attracting and gathering the social public.

Fourthly, each press and press agency needs to identify and show its development philosophy in the digital media environment to build its brand and create its prestige.

Fifthly, there must be changes in the structure of media genres and in the methods for connection and existence of each genre. The print media and print products need to be restructured. Even daily newspapers need to be reduced. Publications which meet information needs of specific audiences need to be increased. Investment is to be made in the development of information products for electronic webs and personal mobile devices.

In addition to the electronic press with strong connection, multimedia and per-second updating capabilities, the print press and broadcasting, it is necessary to seek every opportunity and method of connection with a focus on two major directions: selecting news which has social significance related to the public and which has reliable sources; analyzing and evaluating topical events and issues persuasively.

The press needs to be restructured so it is connected to social media and social networking sites and related to audiences and the general public. The ability of the press to compete for audiences, markets and customers needs to be enhanced. On that basis, the press will be increasingly able to serve as a socio-economic and economic means and method.

Sixthly, developing countries need to enhance the training of media-communication personnel so they are more professional and able to use integrated skills, especially those in selecting events and information and analyzing and evaluating events and issues. They need to increase media connectivity and reduce the size of training. They need to avoid being attracted to techniques and technologies at the cost of the soft skills of professional journalism. This is a difficult problem to solve as the contradiction between the quality of professionalism and financial abilities of training establishments as well as social pressure and demand for learning.

Finally, as centers of social connectivity and with high-quality journalists, editorial offices need to attach importance to the increase of contributors and citizen journalists and retraining of editors and reporters so they change their working styles and are connected to citizen journalists and mentor them.

The traditional press, citizen journalism, social media and social networking sites in the era of digital communication with 3.0 and 4.0 web generations and personal media are fundamentally changing the content, structure and method for existence of the contemporary press.

With their social structure and order and their numerous issues, developing countries are faced with a lot of opportunities and challenges presented by international integration and globalization. The press and media in these countries are also faced with opportunities and challenges posed by development on a macro- and micro-level scale as well as new perceptions, thinking and professional styles and skills required by digital communication.

The Vietnamese press is also preparing and implementing conditions and directions for its development, from renovating communication technical and technological infrastructure so the broadcasting system will have been completely digitized by 2020. The economics of press activities is being innovated for greater autonomy and self-responsibility. Media agencies, human resource training and international cooperation are being reorganized to make use of connectivity and resources for development. The most important issue is that of press-media human resources and technical and technological infrastructure sticking to and serving the cause of sustainable national development for the goals of “a prosperous people and a strong, democratic, equitable and civilized country”.


(1) By“grassroots” the author refers to “ordinary people”,or farmers or poor people.

(2) Srinivas R. Melkote, International and Development Communication: A 21st Century Perspective, Sage Publications, 2001, p. 141.

(3) Tran Van Dinh: Independence, Liberation, Revolution. The author is a Vietnamese scholar lecturing in International Politics and Communication at TempleUniversity.

(4) Nguyen Van Dung (Chief editor) andDoThiThu Hang: Communication: Fundamental theories and skills, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2012.


(5) Report by the Ministry of Information and Communication releasedon30December 2015at the National Press Conference 2015.

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Nguyen Van Dung

Academy of Journalism and Communication

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