Import of Newswatch closure–1

Not a few would ask “so what if Newswatch goes down under?’’ Certainly, the founders and directors must have thoroughly considered the import of what they were doing before opting to sell what they had laboured to build, as it has turned out, to someone who probably does not have the same passion for journalism as they have.  Anyway, it will not be the first journal to go down. Iwe Irohin Yoruba, ostensibly the first published newspaper in Nigeria and sundry pre-independence journals, except of course the Nigerian Tribune,  that served as powerful weapon to prosecute the independence struggle never lasted beyond a few years after Nigeria became self- governing.  Not until relatively recently when the Media Trust Ltd, publisher of the Trust titles, through the yeoman’s effort of the founders literally elbowed itself into reckoning in the newspaper firmament in Nigeria, the North had borne with equanimity the unflattering epithet that it was the grave yard of newspapers and magazines. Whilst journalists and many people may not have liked such clearly morbid comments, the fact remains however that there was a ring of truth to the claim. Notable titles such as the Reporter, the Democrat and magazines such as Citizen and Sentinel, to mention a few – which started with such promise and aplomb, all faded away. With the Trust having demonstrated fairly successfully that a privately owned newspaper can grow and flourish in the north, and what is more, hold its own in the rough and tumble competition in the media sector, the region has begun to see the flowering of more newspapers, such as the Leadership, Peoples Daily and the Blueprint which just clocked one year.

The South too has had its own journal morbidity- most notably the Daily Times, the flagship of a host of journals in the Times group and once Nigeria’s foremost newspaper. Along with the New Nigerian, it was taken over in 1976 by the federal government. It was however sold by the Bureau of Public Enterprises during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo but a litigation over its real ownership has grounded the paper ever since. Also uncountable number of lesser known ones published briefly and packed up, particularly those established to further political ambitions have waxed and waned according to the political fortunes of their owners.

So newspapers and magazines fade away or as the popular parlance go ‘’get rested,’’ when they are faced with dwindling fortunes, still the circumstance of the creation of Newswatch and its hardheaded pursuit of journalistic excellence characterized by a certain racy readability which the magazine made its hallmark, elevated it into an iconic status in Nigeria journalism. For journalists and the general reader also, the Newswatch was compulsory reading as an edifying weekly manual in the painstaking manner of news production, and this was achieved, as has been noted, through an engaging and accessible style of reportage. The magazines columns, mainly written by the founders themselves- Dele Giwa (while he lived), Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese, Yakubu Muhammed and others like Niyi Osundare, the poet and university teacher, had huge readership among the middle class and upper class as they probed, dissected and pontificated on trends, fads and policies.

Elsewhere, Newswatch’s near perfect production as a news journal would have guaranteed its survival into the far future. After all, the Economist and Time magazines established in 1843 and 1923 respectively are still waxing strongly, assured of a world- wide readership that has served as the backbone of their sustenance even in the face of the relentless onslaught of new technology which they  adopt as they continue with the business of publishing. The foregoing raises the issue of how to ensure journals; particularly the best of them not only survive but remain going concerns, strong enough to withstand the ebb and flow of the economy until they become ‘’too big to fail.’’

Now, the point must be made that beside the aberrant behavior of rulers who ban newspapers and magazines usually for no justifiable cause, causing them to stop printing and creating a crisis of continuity that could ground the newspapers for good, the biggest challenge to the survival of a journal is a badly run economy where spiraling inflation causes the cost of production to skyrocket. In Nigeria this has been the nightmare of publishers because almost every input –from newsprints to the lowest item –has to be imported. Expectedly, to remain afloat the readers and advertisers are made to bear part of the cost in the form of a constantly rising cover price and advertisement rate which in turn results into ever dwindling patronage in copy sales and advert placement—the two main sources of their revenue.

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