News that MTN and Western Union will be working together to offer mobile money transfer services across the world signal a new era in using mobile phone technologies to extend vital services to the people.

While this is not necessary new media tools story, it still has a lot of significance for journalists, communicators and news media committed to remaining relevant to today’s and tomorrow’s audience. We need to draw important lessons and prepare accordingly.

MTN, which is primarily a telecommunications company has realized that high mobile phone penetration in Africa presents numerous opportunities to better serve people in extending financial services, in addition to connecting people and availing several information products.

Likewise, Western Union, the kings of international money transfer have realized that mobile phones are a big tool to make money transfer more real, especially in Africa.

Mobile phones is the major way most people access news and information

It doesn’t take a lot of analytical thinking to see that both these two companies from different spheres (Telecommunications and international finance/money transfer) have tapped each other’s abilities to work together to better deliver for the common client of their services.

So what lesson does this have for journalists and news media in Africa where mobile is truly the leading mass media? The news media should make partnerships with telecom companies to better deliver news and information to audience members. I said here a year ago that African media need to think seriously of partnerships for mobile news and information delivery as well as online if they want to remain relevant as channels to reach audiences.

As masters of the written or spoken word (read effective communication) and gathering of community important information, journalists and news media can best continue to be relevant if they work through the best means (the telecoms) to reach people, which undoubtedly is through mobile phones.

Otherwise, the telecoms are going to do it alone and will become the major sources of news and information. Yes. Many telecoms already aggregate and supply newspaper news and information without paying newspapers for it and use it to reach many more people than newspapers or television stations can ever reach. The telecoms are just improving and they are going to get better at this. When the news media realizes and starts complaining, the telecoms will likely employ a few people to re-write news media content and deliver it where the traditional media can reach or are unable.

That is why the best way is for news media to work with telecoms companies to provide content (news and information products) that can be delivered to audiences via mobile phones.

Probably let us look at it from an audience member’s perspective. When someone wants to know something, what is the easiest way to search and get information one needs? Is it waiting for tomorrow’s newspaper or reading the newspapers they can get, turning on the TV or radio, searching online or searching through mobile phone call or sms?

So, news media as sources of news and information should be thinking of how best their news and information can be accessed by audiences members, and since news media do not control the expensive to set up telecommunications that enable mobile phone news and information delivery, partnering with the telecoms seems the most obvious solution. I’m talking about news media sitting down and working with telecoms to come up with ways of bettering news and information access and sharing via mobile.

It is also important to remember that news media survive on advertising revenue through selling audiences. If most of the audience is being reached by mobile, who has the best chance to attract advertising? All mobile telecom companies, the major advertisers in African media now mostly use their own sms to tell customers about their promotions or services, and they are looking at extending this advantage to other businesses. MTN Uganda is already registering clients for mobile advertising, asking customers to register if they want to receive offers on products or services.

The same company is also selling music, games and videos at their www.mtnplay.co.ug website, further threatening the relevance of traditional media services like music programmes on TV and radio which broadcast at a particular time (not of the clients choosing). The writing is on the wall.

Gerald Businge