How The Internet Is Affecting The Practice Of Journalism In Nigeria

uchenworah@yahoo.com


Times and things have indeed changed, globalisation has since become a buzz word, and has brought with it change and competition, people's lives have been variously affected either for the better or for the worse, depending on the side of the divide one finds himself or herself, although Africa and the rest of the developing world (sounds better than the clichéd 3rd world designation) may argue that they are hard done by, by the avenging and scavenging onslaught of the multinational corporations through their invasion and incursion into their markets with cheap mass produced goods. Another reverse colonialism then? Maybe.

I have always been fascinated by this unfolding drama, and sometimes feel grateful to God that it is happening in my time. The change has been sudden, quick and rapid; it has caught many people, companies and countries unawares.

In addition to people's clamour for change, rising income levels as a result of improved education, the efforts of silicon valley techies and their technological strides (the internet, personal computers and laptops, PDAs, e-commerce, m-commerce and such other digital devices and systems), the other factors identified to be driving globalisation forward are changing consumer tastes and fashion, the advent of faster means of travel and communication pioneered by CNN and their breaking news tradition, although we now have other global media such as Al-Jazeera, Fox News, BBC, SKY etc, the increasing integration of countries into regional groups for example the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU) etc, and also the rise of super corporations and global giants such as Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Nike etc. There is also the greed factor which critics of globalisation have used every now- and -then to advance their argument, the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organisation (WTO) protests readily come to mind.

I am quite interested in the kind of influence globalisation and consequently the internet is having or has had on the professions. The sports profession (industry?) is a good case study, sports and football as we know it today has completely changed from the passionate way it used to be played in the past, this is the day and age of the football mercenaries, and their greedy managers, footballers like David Beckham, Ronaldo and Ronaldhino have since assumed iconic status and command multi-million pound/dollar pay check for their exploits both on- and -of the pitch, a far cry from the pittance nigerian footballers earned in the days of Segun ‘mathematical' Odegbami and ‘chairman' Christian Chukwu. Footballers no longer have any issue with taking a short walk across town to sign for a rival clubside, today we have the likes of Sol Campbell signing to play for Arsenal from their north London arch rivals, Tottenham Hotspurs. Also Ronaldo while still contracted to Barcelona didn't even think twice before selling his speed and feet to Real Madrid.

In this article, I will be focussing on the likely impact of the internet on journalism practice in Nigeria. Although the term journalism has been traditionally used to refer to news practitioners in the print media (journals, newspapers, magazines), it will however be used in this context to also include electronic media (Radio, TV, Film, Web etc) practitioners, my reason for adopting this blanket description is that the term journalism, is now popularly associated with news practitioners in both the print and electronic media.

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, The Thisday Newspaper group, The Independent Newspaper group, New Age Newspaper 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 later 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 $8billion 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 unto 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'.

Mr. Oshotse, who is now the Europe and North American editor of the Daily Independent newspaper, believes that 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 continuos 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 legal mitigation with some of the organisation's key stakeholders, most especially the employee 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 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 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.

When asked why he spends valuable time writing for free on the Internet, one of such established Internet pundits Ndubueze Godson 111, a regular on some Nigerian websites, he said that he writes… His views in a way reflect the views of the many Internet pundits, a phenomenon that is steadily on the increase.

Another known Internet pundit and columnist at www.kwenu.com, Hank Eso on the other hand believes that ‘despite the vast incursion of web pundits and presumed journalists, the field of journalism is (still) well and active'. He does not share the view that the Internet pundits are depriving the traditional and more established journalists of their livelihood, describing journalists who make such claims as being ‘unserious'. On why he spends valuable time writing for free on the Internet, Mr. Eso says that it is to promote dialogue and understanding and also the ultimate way for him to express his freedom of expression. He believes that the Internet offers ‘infinite possibilities in creativity and outreach'. He savours the freedom and accessibility (between the writer and the audience) which the internet gives to writers like him, as they are not under any kind of deadline pressure associated with traditional news rooms, according to him ‘As things are, I am at liberty to decide, when to write, what to write about, how long and with what regularity… I cannot find yesterday's newspaper in my house but on the web, I can find news from 1945, instantly'.

There is a special group of people who appear to be particularly affected by the growing trend of internet punditry, the so called freelance writers and journalists, these are the people that used to be paid depending on the stories they write and where such stories are published, it appears that their breed is a dying one as it does not seem likely that faced with dwindling fortunes and resources, any nigerian publisher or newspaper editor will be willing to pay for their writings when there are the internet pundits waiting in the wings with their own articles and stories, Jimoh odutola, one of such freelance journalists however warns of the dangers of such practices, according to him there is now a kind of ‘dumbing' down in the media, where ‘people without any formal journalism training and skills now dominate the pages of most newspapers, with bolts - and - screw type articles', in reference to the lack of journalistic writings of some of the articles now published in some newspapers. It is either Mr Odutola is right or his, is just a rash reaction of someone whose profession is on the brink of extinction.

Another major trend that has emerged in journalism practice in Nigeria as regards the Internet is the rise of independent media, these Internet sites are now competing with the established newspapers' websites in the provision of news and information to Nigerians at home and abroad. The websites are usually based and operated from either Europe or America and are already winning in the ratings stakes, as some of them claim daily visits which are quite higher than the figures the established newspaper organisations will even dream of, Adebola Mogaji, the owner of Naijacommunity, one of such fledgling websites in a recent statement claimed that his site receives an average hit of 60,000 visitors daily. Philip Adekunle, the administrator of another popular website, The Nigeria Village Square does not believe that the independent websites are directly in competition with the established media organisations, according to him... ‘the independent websites are providing a service to nigerians and the international community, we have now become a first source for information on Nigeria by both Nigerians and non-Nigerians who are attracted by the divergent and varied views expressed in some of these websites'. He also believes that both the independent websites and their more established and traditional counterparts can exist alongside each other, noting that his website, just like some of the other independent websites all provide direct news links to the established newspaper organisations, signifying a partnership of sorts rather that rivalry and competition.

Some of the other popular independent websites include Gamji, NigeriaWorld, BiafraNigeriaWorld, LagosForum.com, Kwenu, Odili.net, Arewa-Online.com etc. While some of these independent websites are national in outlook, there are also many of them that appeal only to particular ethnic audience. A frequent visitor to some of these websites but who wishes to remain anonymous however, thinks that some of these websites have no business existing, as they are not professionally run, he also believes that some of the websites are funded by nigerian politicians, especially those who have no media access in Nigeria or have lost credibility, and have now hired hacks or jobbers do touch up their images and raise their profile using these websites, he also said that eventually especially in 2007, the true motives for setting up the websites will be made known to nigerians when they begin to peddle the views of their masters and promote only their interests in preparation for the elections.

Followers of the political events in Nigeria in the last decade, will remember the ‘dark ages' experienced by nigerian journalists at the hands of the Abacha - led military junta, a period that saw nigeria's finest journalists fleeing the country, and several media organisations shut down and proscribed, or their owners thrown into jail, that period also witnessed sheer bravado and heroics by the very few newspapers and magazines that were then operating underground and the journalists that stayed, most worthy of mention are Tell, Tempo and The News magazines, whose running battles with soldiers and Abacha's goons have now become folk history. It is very unlikely that the Nigerian media and journalists will experience such campaign of destruction and terror ever again, there wouldn't be any need to ban or proscribe the newspapers, because with the internet, both the independent websites and the established newspapers will be up and running 24/7, more so since some of the websites are domiciled abroad, the internet is therefore a good device, that can be readily deployed under such extreme and harsh media conditions, hopefully Nigerians will not have to relive nor go through such moments again.

To some extent, photojournalists in Nigeria are now able to use Internet facilities such as emails to upload and email their pictures to their newsrooms from distant locations, Vera Odjugo, the London corespondent for Ovation International Magazine, Nigeria's leading society magazine says that the internet has really made her job easier, according to her ‘I am able to cover an event using my digital camera, and download the pictures onto my computer, after which I will email them immediately to our headquarters in Ghana'. According to her, this is the reason why Nigerians are served fresh photos of events, weddings and parties from around the world on Ovation magazine every month.

In concluding, I want to say that since the internet is still evolving in Nigeria, and is yet to reach the adoption levels already achieved in the western countries, there will still be other unfolding consequences on the practice of journalism in Nigeria, but for sure there will be no going back, in the words of Hank Eso, ‘The web is a way of life, which we can no longer escape'. It is my humble submission that journalists and newspaper organisations should embrace its use fully while at the same time taking full advantages of the opportunities it presents, as can be seen and is already the case in the developed countries.


Uche Nworah is a doctoral candidate at the University of Greenwich, London with research interests in country branding and diasporas. He also teaches business and marketing at Newvic, London.


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