LASICS .::. Open Conference Systems, IAMCR 2010: Communication and Citizenship

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Cellphones: news for everybody everywhere

Antonio Fidalgo, João Canavilhas, Anabela Gradim

Last modified: 2010-06-03


Cellphones are becoming the first universal medium. Practically everybody in the world owns a cellphone or, at the current pace, will soon have one. Even in poor countries were people have no access to electricity or running water, cellphones are regarded as important tools to improve life conditions.
Cellphones are much more than calling devices. Even letting aside smartphones that represent 13% of total handsets, all have SMS ability and 88% have 2,5G data capability. They are indeed fit to receive or access news permanently and ubiquitously. Today almost all carriers and media corporations offer news alert services. Probably the most easy and convenient form to receive breaking news is through an SMS message. And people are willing to pay for it – something online
news are yet to accomplish.
The 160 characters of an SMS are usually enough to convey the lead of any hard news. Simultaneously, the SMS text can include a link to a more developed version of the report. That link can be a phone number to be called, allowing the client to listen to a full spoken version of the report, or a web link to be accessed by the phone browser.
People in developing countries without access to traditional mass media can now get the news in their mobiles. The carriers can deliver them as a commodity, supplying them for free, in order to attract subscribers. This kind of services can be easily tailored to the reality and necessities of the mobile users. Thanks to the geo-localization that each mobile enables, even those without GPS, users can receive weather and local news that really meet their interests without even having to 'pull' them.
Much more than satisfying curiosity, news help people to adapt and react to their economical, social and political environment. A 2009 special report on telecoms in emerging markets brought by the Economist shows that poor countries have already benefited hugely from mobile phones: “Adding an extra ten mobile phones per 100 people in a typical developing country boosts growth in GDP per person by 0.8 percentage points”.
Reflecting on cellphone screens as the new universal medium, capable of ubiquitously delivering customized news to consumers, that has deep social implications, and is building a new relation these new, permanently wired consumers, is one of the purposes of this work.
In Portugal some innovative experiences on news delivering on the cell phone are already taking place. In the small village of Nobrija, two youngsters fresh out of college produce a video-journal about local news that can be freely downloaded by its inhabitants, and which is already a huge success among the population.
Presenting the successful case of Nobrija, and reflecting on empirical data gathered among the population – whose skills are roughly similar to those of people in the developing countries – this paper also intends to reflect on the new phenomenon of news delivery, and draw some perspectives on its future and potential.

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