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New media cannot kill newspaper

By Chuka Nnabuife

FEAR is killing the media. The evidence is everywhere. All ends of the venture, especially among mainstream orthodox practitioners exude the destabilising emotion. But one surprise is that a clear-headed (by really informed persons,  with good grasp of history and understanding of the nature of innovation) end up showing reasons to celebrate a vast array of emerging opportunities not brood about the changing nature of things therein.

One fear that spreads through every sector of contemporary mass media is the threat of new technology. Every operator in the industry, from employee to employer and those in ancillary sectors worry: ‘what next?’ Major cause of the anxiety is where the latest or emerging industrial trends would potentially place their jobs or rock their investments.

Some red-herring quick-fix analysts even made fortunes from planting pins, nails, thorns, pepper et al on the chairs of media entrepreneurs. They scared them with notions of perceived dangers, imminent. Many lilly-livered investors took  their advices and fled even when the impending doomsday they were told of since over four decades never manifested. Some job holders in the industry even migrated to other sectors as a result of fear.

Worsening the matter was the rise in cost of media equipment and the entrance of social media operations which came replete with quack practitioners in the social communication space.

Things further turned awry at about the turn of 21st century with the rise very populist highly politically exposed persons who use(d) the new media to rise to power and turn around to hammer the media when their opponents same.
In both developed and developing countries such powerful men and women, most of whom are even media entrepreneurs, found the sector good prey for all manner of tarnish and bashing. In both developed and developing nations, vocal and influential public figures found their way of blaming the sector for any aberration.

President of the United States of America (U.S.A.) Donald Trump, for example, tagged a section of the media, agents of ‘fake news’.

Matters continued to plunge farther as states like Nigeria began to ponder the enactment of laws to check fake speech and hate speech. This has prompted fears of intention to gag the press and rankle the already rattled sector.

Developing nations’ economic woes which magnify the industry’s challenges in poor countries add salt to injury. The magnitude of the issues was evident in the plethora of problems identified by the elites of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) during the body’s recently concluded 15th All Nigeria Editors’ Conference (ANEC) in Sokoto State International Conference Centre, Kasarawa, Airport Road, Sokoto.

The five-day brainstorming session made it clear that there are heavy weights shackling the feet of the media sector in Nigeria as well as several developing nations of her status. From the theme, ‘A Distressed Media: Impact on Government, Governance and Society’ to the topics in annexure, it was evident that the editors are feeling the current  burden on their field.

While giving his address of welcome, President of NGE, Isa Mustapha, did not mince words on the extent of crippling the editors sense. “This year’s ANEC with the theme, ‘A Distressed Media: Impact on Government, Governance and Society’, is about us, our profession and our survival. It is also about Nigeria and the sustenance of our democracy because without a robust media, democracy suffers,” he explained.

Mr. Isah peaked into the matter more: “This year, we are focusing on media as business. We deliberately chose to discuss our profession this year because we’ve often been accused of proffering solutions to other people’s problems and neglecting ours.

“The general downturn in the economy has affected our business. We must survive in order to perform our constitutional duty of holding government to account. The constitution gives the media enormous responsibility of holding government accountable to the people without providing for us the economic and the constitutional protection to do our duty. The media is passing through a tough phase.”

Indeed, by the almost 200 eggheads in the media field roamed, intellectually through the theme. It was manifest that the sector is under immense stress – from internal and external sources.

As the experts appraised the state of affair in their field, relying most times on their long years of experience, it became clear that ‘there is fire on the mountain’ in their fold but not wildfires that would ravage the sector but a bright burning torch that now illuminates the field from zenith to basement.

Through such topics as ‘New Media as Future of Newsroom: Myth or Reality;’ ‘Journalism Education and Shrinking Opportunities;’ illuminating interventions and the capping roundtable, entitled, ‘A Distressed Media: The Way Out’ which paraded brilliant practitioners from newsrooms and universities, views of the dazzling opportunities from the beclouding fog became clear.

Some investors, chief executives and editors of print media firms – newspapers and magazines, the most rattled of the orthodox press – left the conference brimming with confidence and innovative ideas.

Surely, issues such as the often-stated and seldom spoken about like media convergence, globalisation, capacity building among staff, brand diversification, outsourcing and brand rejuvenation were served from practitioners who have implemented them, seen their merits and demerits and tried out improved approaches.  There were equally new trends to ponder in the very resourceful conference.

But as a newspaper man, despite savouring all that, I equally came back from the conference with a story a colleague, Umar, a fellow of NGE who now teaches in a private university as a professor, shared with me during dinner in Gingiya Hotel, Sokoto.

We were both discussing the people who go about deterring media entrepreneurs from being serious with investing in newspapers because, as they regularly claim, the coming of social media spells end days for newspapers. The notion makes Umar and I, among two others in the table laugh.

My friend recalled that when television came it was said that it will eradicate photography. When film came it did not end the existence of television among others because all those media formats have their very distinct consumption requirements and different audiences. Similarly, paper as a material has its peculiar form of serving, preserving and communicating messages which no online format can do.

I got an interesting story of one bright scholar who tended to carry the fantasy of e-publication over material newspaper too far, from there.

I will try to abridge thusly: Following his failure of the two postgraduate studies scholarships he applied for immediately after his one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) tenure, Junior was downcast.

His mood plunged further when his quest for employment in a plum parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources  was denied.

He could not really fathom why he was not chosen because, in his view he did well in all the intellectual tests.

His mother was worse-hit. She was also shocked that her first son whose record of examination distinction is evident since kindergerten could not scale through the panels. Half-heartedly, she settled for blaming ‘Nigerian factor’ as cause of her son’s series of denials.

Junior was a well known academic star by people around him. In fact, some called him, a genius and prodigy given the trove of trophies, plaques and honours certificates he had from childhood.

He was only 18 when he got the scholarship of a leading telecommunication firm during his second year in university as the most outstanding student in the engineering faculty in his first year.

He retained the top spot until his graduation after five years. He was a clean and widely acknowledged first class undergraduate, and he graduated with first class honours.

Had he not nursed a deep-seated disdain for teaching since his late father died, penniless as vice principal of a secondary school when he was only 15, he would have taken the teaching offer that his university made to him when he graduated with excellent scores.

But he was desirous of something else. Even if teaching was to be the only option, he was keen on turning it down to pursue his desire of a research scholarship in Europe or North America. Should that fail he would settle for a job in the oil and gas sector to be able to assist his civil servant mother and family as the first son of the widow.

He got none of the options. After a two-year wait, he grabbed his luck when it came again. A university employed him as a graduate-assistant lecturer with an offer of post-graduate degree study. Now studying for his doctorate degree in that school, Junior would always tell his students and friends: “do you have your records intact?”

Whenever they record a feat. He is now a keeper of all manner of files of documents and ‘collector’ of newspaper clips. Whenever he acquires a newspaper, he marks and cuts out the stories that are of prime interest to him and file.

‘Once beaten, twice shy,’ Junior later discovered that it was his not being able to attach newspaper publications, especially, hard copies of the reports of his awards that made him lose those scholarship opportunities.

Back from Sokoto, I had Maxim Uzoatu, a journalist with three decade experience of reporting and editing newspapers, magazines and books. Out of curiosity, I asked him: What do you say when you hear people say newspapers will soon die?

He laughed out loudly and said: “Don’t mind those mad people! Where will the world file her documents? In the cloud or sky or what again do they call it? All those alarms we have been giving our ears, for how long now?”

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