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The Impact of the Internet on Journalism Practice in Nigeria

  1. felicia
    One does not need to search very far to begin to see some of such impact. To their credit, some Nigerian media organisations have already established a strong presence in cyberspace, amongst the pioneers are The Guardian Newspapers (www.ngrguardiannews.com), The Thisday Newspaper group (www.thisdayonline.com), The Independent Newspaper group (www.independentng.com), New Age Newspaper (www.newage-online.com) and so on.

    These media houses have continued to be veritable sources of news and information to both Nigerians at home and in the diaspora. The Guardian’s website and chartroom at inception was a rallying point for Nigerians at home and abroad to meet and discuss common issues of national importance. It can be said therefore that the Nigerian media are measuring up with their counterparts in other parts of the world by their maintaining strategic presence on the information super highway.

    However, any such attempt at ‘rubbing shoulders’ with the western media stops just with the internet sites some Nigerian media organisations have managed to set up. As other facilities and resources are still largely unavailable to Nigerian journalists, for example, company sponsored laptop computers with mobile internet access, digital recording devices, open access mobile telephones, plus salaries that take into consideration global trends, market prices and national inflation rates.

    At the heart of the issue of the Internet providing the Nigerian media with a wider audience to, is also the problem of reduced cover price revenues and advertisements. The latter being closely linked to each other. Nigerians popularised the FAN (free readers association of Nigeria) concept, a term and acronym used to refer to the practice of locals congregating around newspaper vendors’ tables to read newspapers and magazines for free without actually buying any, probably a reflection of the socio-economic circumstances and intellectual awareness of the people that indulge in such activities (the FANatics).

    It may seem now that such practices have now been elevated and taken to another level with the advent of the internet, since the free readers or punters now only need to log on and then freely read any newspaper or magazine of their choice, this obviously will have a huge impact on revenues as less hard copies will be bought.

    The matter is largely compounded by the fact that Nigerian advertisers have not yet started taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the internet, to advertise their products and services in the websites of some of these media organisations. Only a few advertisers are doing this at the moment. It was hoped that such advertisements may actually increase so that the free news now readily available on the internet can be subsidised, and also to make up for the shortfall from the hard copy sales.

    While there are no hard figures from any sources in Nigeria I can use to support my assertions, I will however site the global internet advertising revenues, which has grown steadily to over $8 billion annually (source: Price Water House annual internet advertising reports 2004). According to Tom Hyland, Partner and Chair, New Media Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers “Single digit, sequential growth demonstrates the industry has left behind the large revenue spikes that characterized the early years. We’re now looking at a maturing, stable industry that inspires further investment by large, traditional marketers.”

    It can be argued that in a way, the internet has led to a decrease in the revenue of some of the media organisations in Nigeria, while at the same time increasing their costs, as money would have to be invested into setting up such web sites, and also paying the staff that would constantly maintain them, however if we are to go by global trends which foretell an increase in internet advertising usage and revenues, then any incidental costs will eventually be offset by the expected advertising revenues, hopefully.

    Regarding the way that journalists do their (news gathering) work, the internet has made things easier. According to Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye, a member of the editorial board of the Independent newspaper group, ‘journalists can now file in their reports easily from any part of Nigeria where there is internet access. All they need to do is go to any nearby internet café and at the touch of a button, the news report is at the editor’s desk, ready to be served fresh to the readers’.

    Gone are the days of notepads and blue pens, tools of the trade that now belong to the past. Although the under-resourced nature of some Nigerian media organisations have meant that some journalists have continued to cling to such relics of the past, just like the old journalism days and golden years of Iwe Irohin (Nigeria’s first newspaper) and the Nnamdi Azikiwe owned West African Pilot. In the words of Mr Greg Obong-Oshotse, a Nigerian media veteran, and former special assistant to Mrs Maryam Babangida (wife of Nigeria’s former military president), ‘journalism practice in those days was a hands-on vocation, of course with the aid of the good old reporters’ notebook, midgets (tape recorders), and the ball point pen. Journalists are trained to write their stories on the move, inside taxis or buses, the slow process of news gathering then made deadline a dreaded word in most newsrooms’.

    Although Nigerian journalists to a large extent still grapple with the problems of poor facilities, saying that their professional life is still not as rosy as that of their western counterparts, especially in this technological age.

    The internet has also provided Nigerian journalists with international exposure, they no longer have to travel to New York or London to be read or heard, they can file a story from the remotest part of Nigeria and the story posted on the internet, this then exposes both their writing style, journalistic ethics, and professionalism to the scrutiny of both national and international audiences. Such benefits obviously comes with challenges, that of advanced journalistic skills which is acquired through practice and a programme of continuous professional development (CPD), it is largely unclear to what extent CPD is part of the journalism profession in Nigeria, especially because of the cost factor.

    Several media organisations still struggle to pay staff salaries and do not have enough money left to invest in staff training and equipments. There is also a deficiency in the quality of some of the graduates from the mass communication schools in Nigerian universities, colleges and polytechnics. Some of these mass communication departments have no fully operational media suites and student newspapers where students can translate the theories learnt in the classroom into practice.

    The Daily Times Institute of Journalism located in Ogba, Ikeja Lagos used to be a standard bearer in journalism education in Nigeria but the institution has now fallen on hard times, especially because of the financial distress of the parent organisation (The Daily Times media group), which has since been privatised by the Nigerian government and sold to the Fidelis Anosike – led Folio Communications for 1 Billion naira ($650m) under mysterious circumstances.

    The new owners (Folio Communications) have been accused of underhand asset stripping tactics, and is currently embroiled in legal mitigation with some of the organisation’s key stakeholders, most especially the employees union.

    Dr Jideofor Adibe, a media analyst and publisher of the London based journal African Renaissance, however, believes that lack of adequate training and upgrading of the skills of Nigerian and other African journalists may continue to hinder their progress and recognition in the world stage. According to him, ‘it is sad that some African media organisations are yet to embrace information technology fully in their operations, more so when such technologies can now be easily and cheaply sourced and accessed’.

    However, his views may be applicable to some reputable and buoyant media organisations but may not ring true for the several others who are still finding it difficult to maintain an operational office, in addition to being able to pay the salaries of key administration staff.

    In addition to the international exposure of their news stories and articles, journalists in Nigeria are now able to also sample freely the writings of their counterparts in the established western media such as the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the Financial Times, etc. Doing so will lead to their copying the best practices and also motivate and challenge them to work harder in order to become like their western counterparts.

    There are also fears that the internet has greatly reduced the worth of news products, because of the wide and cheap availability of such news products, some Nigerian newspapers and magazines have been known to freely cull and publish articles and news stories from the websites of other newspapers (mainly from the western countries), without actually paying any royalties, while also denying the writers of such articles and news stories of the rights to their intellectual properties, these kinds of behaviour may seem to be only obtainable in the developing countries, probably as a result of lack of skills or adequate in-house writers to fill the pages of every published edition.

    Also, there is a lack of political will to enforce both national and international laws on copyrights and propriety. In this regard, it can be said that the internet has made life a bit easier for the Nigeria publishers but increasingly as the whole world converges to a global village with commonly adopted laws and statutes, Nigerian newspapers who are used to such ‘easy life’ may soon discover that they won’t get away easily with any such story lifting.

    Some people have argued that the internet has to some extent greatly reduced the ‘worth’ and ‘value’ of Nigerian journalists, this is because of the wide availability of internet bloggers and pundits who are more than happy to have their articles and views published in the newspapers. These pseudo-journalists would not normally demand any payment and get their fulfilment from their ‘one minute of fame’. They normally would have views on just about anything, and usually written from a professional standpoint, thereby widening the debate for social, economic, and political reforms even further.

    Therefore, there is no hurry on the part of newspaper publishers to improve the salaries and working conditions of Nigerian journalists, who seem condemned to a life of demanding for ‘brown envelopes’ (goodwill money put in brown envelopes as inducement for publishing news stories and press releases), the monthly salary of an average journalist in Nigeria is still around 40,000 naira ($350). General working conditions are still largely poor compared to what obtains in South Africa and in the developed countries.

    Fellow js ,what do you think?
    The advent of new technology in most cases has a way of causing anxiety as its impact on the existing technology is projected as capable of rendering the old technology irrelevant. Print media held sway until the broadcast media came. The fear then was that broadcast media will replace print media. However the peculiarity of print media in terms of depth of news and the like led to its survival.
    The impact of online journalism on traditional journalism may not be comparable with broadcast media’s effect on print media. However the American example shows that instead of replacing the traditional media, online journalism has caused Americans to spend more time with the news as 36% of them combine traditional media with new technology, while 44% of them get news through one or more digital sources. Again, the pattern of newspaper readership in print declined by 4%, the decline can be attributed to the fact that people prefer to watch pictures and listen than read.
    Nigeria though slow in adopting technology does not live in isolation as such online journalism may not seem to be a threat to traditional journalism now. But the Niger-Delta issue where journalists were bared from entry and indigenes had to report happenings around them paints a global picture. We saw citizens reporting happenings around them in the Tibet –China issue as well as the Iranian controversial election because journalists (especially international journalist) were not allowed in.
    In this regard, the submission here is that we may not seem to be there now, but we will eventually get there. As such the future of traditional journalism in Nigeria is more doubtful when traditional modes are not integrated with online journalism. We can learn from the British example. BBC radio broadcast though a traditional media has integrated aspects of online journalism with the opportunity to get news on the move using mobile phones and iPods. It does not matter whether English is the original language of listeners, because the can download news in their languages. Also programmes like Africa have your say and world have your say allow listeners to pick issues for discussion. Even after the programme is over listeners still continue with conversation online using emails, face book or any medium of choice.
    Hence the argument here is that the future of traditional journalism in Nigeria is uncertain except they fully integrate online journalism to their practices or they might have nothing new to tell their audience. Like Jimmy Cater said, we must adjust to changing times and hold to unchanging principles. This therefore means that a new form of journalism does not mean a change in the principles that govern journalism. It only means a new way of doing things.

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