Bolaji Okusaga

Introduction

Since the advent of the internet in the early 1990’s, the media space has been gravely altered with huge consequence for media practitioners and consumers of traditional news media – what with the altering of media consumption habits, the reinvention of old professional practices, the altering of agenda setting platforms and status-conferral processes, the bursting of old media conventions and the creation of new traditions.

Today in Nigeria, there are clear signs of the eclipse of the traditional media as once vibrant traditional news-media organisations today struggle to fund their operations, given dwindling circulation numbers brought on board by expensive news-prints and difficult to manage printing presses as well as shrinking advertising patronage, given the hot contest from nibble, cost effective, smart and widely accessible digital news platforms.

Origin of the Nigeria Media
Nigerian news media grew out of a need to inform and enlighten the people. The first mass-media platform to arrive was a native language publications – Iwe Iroyin in 1859, a Yoruba language publication championed by Reverend Henry Townsend a British Missionary. This newspaper though secular, had a religious bent given the fact that it had its foundation in the then Church Mission Society (CMS).

The 1960’s saw a Nigeria emerging from the clutches of British Colonialism – a fledgling democracy with a delicate ethnic balance. At independence, it was obvious that Nigeria was grappling with the challenges of new nationhood, and so the media continued to play the role of the conscience of society with journalists such as the likes of Ernest Ikoli, Anthony Enahoro, Lateef Jakande, Bisi Onabanjo having become part of the new political elite, still continuing to push the frontiers of the new Nigerian nation using the conduit of print journalism.

However, following the two coups of 1966, the vibrancy of the Nigerian media received a huge bashing as a result of military decrees and restrictions in the Mid-1960’s to the late 70’s, climaxing in the acquisition of the flagship newspapers in the Northern and Southern parts of Nigeria – the New Nigeria and the Daily Times in 1975. The return of democracy in 1979 saw a easing of restrictions with titles such as Punch and Concord recording huge distribution figures and a rapid rise in advertising revenues.

The 80’s was a time of mixed blessings as it saw the emergence of powerful titles like the Guardian in 1983 just before another military interregnum and the birth of Vanguard Daily Newspaper and Newswatch Weekly News Magazine. However, the return of the military also meant the return of restrictions. Hence such law as the Public Officers (Protection against False Accusation) Decree No. 4 of 1984.

The 1990’s also saw the liberalisation of the electronic media space after General Ibrahim Babagida promulgated Decree 32 of 1992 which gave private individuals access to own electronic media stations.

The year 1999 saw the return of democracy and the lifting of press censorship. This period heralded the proliferation of the print media as every political tendency and gladiator saw a need for the establishment of a news media outfit for the purpose of propagating their political views. Prominent news outfit that emerged in this regard include Daily Trust (which started as a weekly paper in 1998, but became a Daily in 2001), The Sun, The Nation, The Compass (now defunct), Leadership and a host of others.

It must be noted that the decade following the return of democracy saw a decline in the vibrancy and quality of output of the media as rapid proliferation continued. The decline in quality is largely attributable to a lack of focus on training and proper resourcing of media outfits given the failing economic model on which these news media organisations were built.

The Mainstreaming of the Internet and New Technologies
i. Arrival of Digital News Media in Nigeria
The first news sources to arrive on the internet were the specialist blogs that catered to various segments seeking information from lifestyle to entertainment, gossip and technology. The first of such news-site which gained traction and following was Elomobah.com, followed by Sahara Reporters. Other offline news-media which came to the party with strong online news offerings include The Guardian, Vanguard, Thisday and the defunct Next Newspaper. Overtime online news-sites became popular with the likes of Premium Times, Cable News and News-Guru pushing the bounds of incisive and investigative journalism.

Upstaging the Traditional News Media – The Place of other New Technologies
Following the mainstreaming of Social Networks other new technologies aligned to the web began to surface. The first to arrive were online applications feeding-off the back of web and mobile technologies and creating ease of access. This further alienated traditional news media as they lost the power to break news and create the usual gatherings at major vendor spots which were the traditional bases for discussions of breaking news given the convenience which these new technologies brought onboard – creating a 24 hour news-cycle which could be readily followed with immediacy of feedback and user generated content unlike traditional media.

Media Convergence – Challeges and Opportunities

From the foregoing, it is clear that new technologies are not only disrupting the operations of the media, but are driving a convergence of the media and creating platform agnostic news channels which are at once a big challenge to traditional and conservative news-media organisations and represent a major opportunity for news-media organisations ready to embrace change and run with it.

Readers are now tuned to a 24-Hour News Cycle
Well before the advent of new technologies, the competition for readers and news-consumers have driven news organisations to rethink traditional news-cycle, especially how it pertains to breaking news and developing stories. Once upon a time, newspapers were the best source of news but with the invention of the radio, television and the creation of 24hr news channels such as the Cable News Network in 1985, and competitive news websites that came with the internet, the way consumers get their news and what time of the day, has changed completely. With these developments, the newspaper, once seen as the best source of news and incisive news analysis, now has to struggle for the attention of readers and news-consumers. Three critical things drove this change:

Staying on Old News Presentation Model for over a Century
Traditional news-media were slow to reinvent its news presentation and news-cycle, keeping the traditional daily cycle for over a century and sinking into cold comfort without noting the changes that were soon to come with Michael Faraday’s invention of electricity, Thomas Edison’s invention of the light-bulb and Graham Bell’s invention of the Telephone.

Failure to Observe Changing Trends
On the back of these three inventions came the radio and television, yet the newspaper failed to reinvent itself until consumers started to adjust to the 24 hour on-the-go news-cycle with the establishment of cable news in the mid-1980.
Cable News and Internet as Albatross of Old Traditions
Even the establishment of cable news could not force a reinvention of the newspaper, until the internet arrived in the early 1990’s and the traditional newspaper started a race to the bottom given the huge potentials of the internet and how new technologies have leveraged this for the creation of interactive news, speed to market and ease of access.

Playing the Survival Game – The Need for the Reinvention of the Newspaper
Today, the Media industry has a different competitive landscape from the erstwhile analogue production and distribution model which thrived for centuries going bust. The fast-paced transformation from analogue to digital models together with an economic downturn is resulting in constant shocks and failures in the news media industry. Media convergence is now driving a platform agnostic approach to navigating complexities as a tradition print media business now has to compete with a television news media, radio broadcasting, newsprint business, film and video industries, blogs online news-sites, social media, chat platforms, news-wires and news applications – all at the same time.

Winning in the News Marketplace – How Media Organisations Can Respond to Convergence and the Young News-Consumer in 2018
Digital technologies have opened-up the world and created a new set of young people.
The young news-consumer is no longer interested in just reading, listening and watching alone, he wants to be at the centre and driver’s seat of news creation. Urged on by the freedom created by new technologies, young news-consumer are also making their own news and building their own content without waiting for traditional news institutions to use it. Social Media communities and content syndicators and aggregators are daily springing up to give vent to the voice of this generation as they strive for self-expression rather than media approval of their creative output.

The young news-consumer, growing up in this age, has moved mindset from competition to cooperation. From a ‘Me’ perspective to a ‘We’ perspective underscored by big-data possibilities developed out of the emergent sharing economy – moving from an old individualist perspective to a collective mindset.
In this milieu, the traditional media needs to change its business model to adapt to changes not just in technologies but also in culture and media consumption habits. In adapting to change and staying at the cutting edge of the emergent media industry, the forward looking and future oriented media organisation needs to make the following changes:

Become Platform Agnostic rather than a Platform Purist
For starters, a newspaper can be produced using newsprint, but must also have a very strong online presence – with on-demand voice and audio-visual content which is either paid for or freely distributed using the social media and digital applications with an integrated news-room which creates a 24 hour chain and presence with resources available to manage the news experience by courting user generated content through allowing the consumer become an active news source or responding to questions and enquiries on the go.
Establishing a Minute-by-Minute News Desk and Realigning the Structure of the News Operation around a Continuous and Unbroken News Cycle

The business model must borrow the cable news model and the news-room must be transformed from one that captures static news to one that operates on a minute-by-minute basis, given today’s fast-paced, round the clock lifestyle and the young voracious appetite for news on-the-go by young news-consumers.

Creation of a Creative Content Hub that Transforms Content into a Variety of Expressions.
One of the cardinal points to note on the use of digital channels is the need to manage user experience – this requires a combination of platform design and content optimisation. It is often said that the medium determine the content type.

In capturing the interest of young news-consumers under an Omni-channel strategy, news-gathering must be under-pinned with a variety of creative content opportunities from graphic to info-graphics, audio-visual to cartoons, 3D expressions and Animations – sometimes personalising content or introducing virtual reality – in order to capture attention and interest.

Okusaga, is the Managing Consultant of Precise, a Reputation Design Company based in Lagos, Nigeria