The Future Of Conventional Media, By Zainab Suleiman Okino

The Mobile Age According to Internet World Statistics, there are over 100 million Nigerians on the Internet. About 20 million are active users of the Internet, which means no day passes without them being on the Internet. And with a mobile penetration of almost 80 percent and nearly 145 million mobile subscribers in Nigeria, I…”
Yusuf
April 18, 2018 1:27 pm

The Mobile Age

According to Internet World Statistics, there are over 100 million Nigerians on the Internet. About 20 million are active users of the Internet, which means no day passes without them being on the Internet. And with a mobile penetration of almost 80 percent and nearly 145 million mobile subscribers in Nigeria, I need not emphasise that the ‘real’ consumers of media content are now online.

Interestingly, 86 percent of consumers of online content in Nigeria now do so via their mobile phones and the majority of this number are less than 35 years of age.

GOCOP and NPAN

Essentially online newspapers have an association called the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP), with the main objective of ensuring credible publications, peer review and to carry out oversight on one another; also, to sanitise the online platform, while checkmating blackmail and fake news. GOCOP debuted in 2015 and it now has over 50 members, according to Danlami Nmodu, publisher of Newsdiary Online.

In contrast, the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) is also a professional body concerned with the regulation of journalism. It has a duty to “enquire into complaints against the press from the public and also into complaints from the press about the conduct of people or organisations towards the press. In essence, NPAN is like a buffer between the press and the public”. NPAN, according to Muhammed Idris, publisher of Blueprint newspaper and a member of NPAN, has only 17 members. In practical terms, you can hardly get up to 17 newspapers on the news stands.

While, in less than two years of existence, GOCOP already has over 50 members, the traditional media is dying slowly. The exponential growth of the online media, the fact that conventional newspapers are migrating online, the high cost of producing conventional newspapers, have all combined to weaken the traditional media. In addition, readership and revenues from the conventional media have slipped to rock-bottom. Therefore, to say that the social media or online media has a very bright future vis-à-vis the media many grew up with, is an understatement.

Whilst not attempting to bore anyone with definitions, it is however apt to understand the difference between online newspapers and the social media. The online newspaper is simply one publishing in digital format, as against the traditional production of hard copy newspapers. And, whereas social media are “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking”, it “facilitates the creation of information, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks”, according to Wikipedia. These include platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram, YouTube etc. that act as conveyors of digital news content.

Living In the Glorious Past

At the inception of Blueprint in 2011, a Daily Trust reporter — remember I was in Daily Trust for 11-and-a-half years, and recently bagged an excellence award as part of events commemorating their 20th anniversary – sought to know my view on the incursion of the social media and online newspapers. I glamourised and romanticised the conventional media and added for good measure that there would always be space for the conventional media, while acknowledging that the social media’s time had come. My view was that traditional readers like me would always resort to the newspaper for credible information. Seven years down the line, I am not sure I can still say that much. Then, my day was not complete without newspapers. Today, the story is different. Almost all of us now read our papers online and we hardly miss anything even when we do not read the hard copy newspapers.

The Game Changer

The advent of online newspapers/social media is changing news consumption pattern in Nigeria. Time once it was when we had to wait for 24 hours for ‘news to break’, with the exception of the snippets allowed on radio. I use the expression (snippets allowed) advisedly. Since the media was largely a government business then, especially the broadcast media, journalists covering events would always slant their stories in favour of government officials or those who spoke in their favour. All that began to change in the last 10 years or so when social media began to take shape and root in the country. Today what you have is news-on-the-go brought to you as it is unfolding.

This has left the conventional media agape. We (meaning conventional media practitioners) simply have no answer to this incursion that may leave many of us jobless in the years ahead. This is so obvious; and an example here may suffice. At the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE)’s biennial conference in Lagos, in April last year, something curious happened. First NGE is a collection mostly of editors from the print and a handful of the broadcast media. At such an event you would expect to see a lot of people holding the day’s papers, perusing them to get the latest news. However, almost everyone in the hall was on his phone doing WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter, Telegram etc. or reading the online newspapers. The hard copy newspaper was not useful because everything published that day, had been published more than 24 hours earlier. As a matter of fact, people were reading the day’s news that day. In my mind, I felt the days of the newspaper were over, and I was probably on the verge of losing my job, as many of you too might.

The challenges of the conventional media have become enormous in recent years. It is now seen as old fashioned, as the hard copy is no longer “cool”, because it is not “mobile”, so to say. The new tribe of readers live online, and the hard copy does not appeal to young people – it is bulky and difficult to move about, perishable…

Recently I told my colleagues, the production staff precisely, to reduce their demands for one thing or the other because there are ominous signs that their (our, actually) jobs could be on the line. For a small newspaper like Blueprint battling for survival, we have about 10 production staff and on the day in question, their head was asking for more staff. I told them to take it easy because whatever special job they think they are doing for the company is now handy and in everyone’s phone. It is that serious. And this is manifest in the way conventional media, like the newspapers, fall heads over heels to pick stories from the online platforms. When Kachikwu’s letter to the president on his feud with MK Baru leaked and was published by Sahara Reporters, newspapers/editors were unashamedly competing among themselves over who got the best headline over a story that broke the previous day. Yes headline; that’s all we have left. Premium Times, The Cable, Naij.com, Nairaland, Bellanaija, The Eagle, PM News etc., have taken the centre stage and are breaking stories that conventional newspapers fall back on.

If you are still in doubt that the social media is like the hurricane that is here to sweep all of us away, you must be joking. The American President, Donald Trump’s use of the Twitter to convey even policy matters underscores this hurricane metaphor. Even the conservative ones like President Buhari sometimes uses the social media to talk to the nation, not to talk of his digitally compliant aides like Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu.

What is more; our children now think it is old fashioned to read newspapers when they can get all the news/information from their phones. This trend is forcing newspapers and magazines, including internationally entrenched ones like The Economist, Times and New York Times, to cut down on their print run. Even the advantage of sound and vision that the television gives, is unfortunately not enough to save it from the grip of the social media/online newspapers. Before the production crew gets to the office to prepare their reports after an event, the citizen journalist’s story is already all over social media.

International news media like CNN, Aljazeera and BBC have stronger social media presence, driven by more vibrant technologies and economies than ours. They also have video content and online publications all rolled into one. The question is: What is there for the conventional media people? The future of conventional media, to say the least, appears bleak. In the new age of the social media onslaught and online newspapers, we are left exposed to the uncertainties of the conventional means of publishing.

The challenges of the conventional media have become enormous in recent years. It is now seen as old fashioned, as the hard copy is no longer “cool”, because it is not “mobile”, so to say. The new tribe of readers live online, and the hard copy does not appeal to young people – it is bulky and difficult to move about, perishable and could end at the suya and kwosai joints, while the old fashioned video tapes, DVD, cassettes are easily trashed. Also, it is not cost-effective; it is expensive to produce, distribute and even sell. It is not handy, yet it requires a lot of manpower, with a significant capital outlay.

With the emergence of the citizen journalist, nothing has become more liberal in the new millennium than news and content, which means that it is no longer “reasonable” to wait for news to break; the citizen now does the breaking. As such, nothing is really about the work we do as journalists any more.

A Glimmer of Hope

Right now, most government adverts that flow to newspapers, apart from a few media houses that have access to corporate adverts, are from government ministries, department and agencies (MDAs) because of the statutory provisions that such, like tenders for contracts and the likes, should be so advertised. Hence, the day that the finance minister, Kemi Adeosun wakes up to the realisation that government could actually save money from reducing these placements, she will give a directive to that effect. May that day never come.

I’m not a doomsday advocate, but the reality of the social media and erosion of the conventional media stare us dangerously in the face.

The choice clear: You either ship in or ship out. How do we do this? Newspapers should be all encompassing — engaging in online publishing of their stories, investing in social media platforms – including YouTube – so that video content can be uploaded alongside regular stories. The following is a further insight into the pros and cons of the conventional and online newspapers/social media.

Mobile compatibility makes online media fast-paced and easily available, and it is a faster way of getting information across to millions of people at the same time. It is cheap and handy and does not require much manpower. These days newsrooms are virtually empty yet the work gets done.

There are a few reasons the conventional media can thrive:

● It is supposedly better regulated, as there are guidelines for professional conduct and grounds for redress, where they are violated;

● Libel and other issues of infringements can easily be contained, and the law regulating press freedom in Nigeria also provides for legal remedies, once anyone or anything is believed to be in breach;

● It still has a bit of integrity and credibility; there is more believability and trust for this media;

● It still enjoys a bit of government patronage and support (MDAs and governments at all levels rely more on the conventional media, although the pattern is changing;

● Written words, as in books, are not perishable and can be preserved for generations, retrieved for research and references. It is the same for newspapers. Kindle has not been able to replace the traditional library.

Potentials in Online Publishing and Social Media

Content is now democratised, while search engines such as Google and Wikipedia make the world of knowledge interesting and uncomplicated.

Mobile compatibility makes online media fast-paced and easily available, and it is a faster way of getting information across to millions of people at the same time. It is cheap and handy and does not require much manpower. These days newsrooms are virtually empty yet the work gets done. News and gossips on the go have become the opium for the young and trendy.

Mobile compatibility also provides a platform for social connection among people and organisations, like many of the WhatsApp groups, as the sharing of news and materials have been made easy.

Measurability has also changed the rules of the game. You can track likes, shares, tweets, retweets, vies, impression but not so with readership and the passing around of the hard copy. The days of lying with figures are over, while there are no boring moments any more.

Problems of Online Publishing and Social Media

Integrity and credibility questions, such as in the on-going ethical issues involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in the manipulation of the elections of countries such as Nigeria, America and on Brexit, and the phenomenon of fake news, have further raised concerns around the scruples and honour of online news sources. People don’t believe any story until it is published in the conventional media.

Ethical Considerations

The digital media also sometimes relies on rumours as news sources. A majority of online news purveyors thrive on rumours and unverifiable information, and most times without consideration for the ethical requirements of balance and sanctity of facts. There is a plethora of libellous, seditious and malicious publications out there, some of which are contemptuous. There is another challenge of the hacking and theft of data.

Legal tenability means online materials are still not tenable in courts of law, in line with our Evidence Act. And, social media contributes to moral decadence, as we have seen among people using Facebook to create false profiles to deceive, or to defraud people. Cyber bullying among children and teenagers and even the trolling of celebrities is also linked to social media.

Training and retraining will produce a new workforce for the future from the communication schools to the newsrooms, hence we need to invest more in training and equipping a new generation of newsmen that are prepared of taking up the challenge of the new media culture and content.

Addiction to social media may cause distraction in normal workflow, and some organisations do not allow social media interactions during work hours.

While social media could create false alarm on political opponents and assumed enemies, security challenges such as hacking and the theft of data means that no one is safe online these days, in the wake of data mining and other breaches of privacy.

The Way Forward

For centuries, the media has served as a veritable tool for enlightenment. It has been used to clamour for and achieve struggles for independence, equality and other noble causes. Media comes in many forms – the conventional media, which includes print, TV, radio, and also the new media – like Facebook, blogs, Twitter, etc.

When used appropriately, the media sits as the bedrock of any functional democracy. It serves as a check on the government and shapes, to a large extent, the perceptions of the citizens regarding issues. However, where the code of ethics is jettisoned, it can easily be used to perpetuate deceit and engender hate among people.

With the new wave of digitisation, the conventional media is gradually losing ground. Information is accessible on-the-go via the social media through our phones, tablets, etc.

Conventional media is dying, people don’t buy papers anymore and the media houses can only sustain themselves through adverts and PR pieces.

The future of conventional media in Nigeria rests on their ability to innovate and strategise better to reach more people; open new vistas; attract more money from advertising and other sources of funding, without jettisoning the legal requirements and ethics of responsible journalism.

The old investigative work and human interest stories are relevant any day, and can still help the conventional media to get by, especially with online traffic to their sites and with hard copy sales.

Training and retraining will produce a new workforce for the future from the communication schools to the newsrooms, hence we need to invest more in training and equipping a new generation of newsmen that are prepared of taking up the challenge of the new media culture and content.

Going Forward

It is either we innovate or perish. Never underestimate the power of change; get involved and let’s retool, re-strategise and take advantage of the new wave of journalism underscored by ethical standards.

[email protected], www.zainabokino.blogspot.com

Presented at a one-day retreat to members of the Senate Press Corps in Jos, Plateau State.

 

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