Import of Newswatch closure II

Another challenge for the newspaper industry is the in- road made by new technology into the industry which has forced wholesale redefinition of its operational modalities. At the fundamental level, it threatens the very existence of the newspaper or magazine as we know it, as more and more readers get their content not by buying the hard copy but by accessing content from the Internet with portable personal computers, I- Pads, IPods and smart hand sets (phones) etc.—thereby rendering hard copies anachronistic. This change in medium, as it were, has brought about the over-simplification of editorial matter presentation as newspapers and magazines adopt fleeting, cursory and some would say superficial style, all in a bid to copy the TV and radio format. For instance international magazines such as Time and the Economist not only have discarded their once turgid, high flown style and detailed reportage that was the vogue until some ten years ago, for the  simple, chatty and racy one, that makes it possible to read the magazines fairly quickly. A few years ago they came as bulky tomes to be waded through, literally, for weeks; now however they have grown slimmer and slimmer as the weeks go by.

In a bid to beat the bad times the industry is facing world wide, the tabloids and broadsheets have continued to miniaturize, continually reducing in size. The ones that have doggedly stuck to their old format have retained their appeal and attract more readers by introducing more sections- all in one edition. For instance, a copy of the Financial Times (Weekend) includes pull-outs on Life and Arts, Money, House and Home, occasional one on Watches and Jewellery, as well as FT Weekend Magazine. Their Nigerian counterparts have done a good job of copying this innovation to good effect.

All this effort is aimed at remaining a going concern. But in the instance when, as in Newswatch’s case, an important journal has done everything but still has to bite to the bullet and give up the ghost, what must be done?  The simply answer is they should be bailed out. Now, why in a “market economy” should we be contemplating bailing out a stricken newspaper and or magazine? Well, the same reason that made government to bail out banks that became insolvent, so do other important sectors deserve a helping hand for them to get to their  feet when they are being threatened by “depression”. Like other sectors of the economy, the media industry is underdeveloped in Nigeria. It has been noted that almost all inputs are imported. It has to be granted that there was effort to develop a newsprint industry-Oku Iboku- and Iwo pin – but it died as a result of the usual reasons that plague this kind of effort.

A way to develop a newspaper industry therefore is for government to draw up a cultural/communication policy. Newspapers like books are cultural materials and are of utmost importance in all societies; besides their traditional role of informing, educating and entertaining the people, they also serve as repositories of a people’s way of life which they daily record. Of course, we also know the uses (propaganda) to which they can be put when the needs arise. All this and the fact that a well developed newspaper industry is a veritable employer of labour of various categories of skill, makes it imperative for  government to come out with an all encompassing cultural policy that would spell out the place of journalsin Nigeria’s development effort and how to grow  and make the best of them to survive.

This does not necessarily amount to government returning to ownership of newspapers of yore. The stories of the Daily Times, New Nigerian and the moribund state newspapers are enough reasons for the government not to dabble into ownership of newspapers again. Immediate measures it can put in place include a series of fiscal policies to enable them get imported inputs at prices that would sustain their operations and make them continue to serve the country.  Then it should follow this up by encouraging investments in manufacture of these inputs locally, as well as media related advanced technology as India, Korea, Brazil have done. This can be done as part of a general industrialization policy.

Pursuing a policy targeted at creating an environment for the media\newspaper development can still be done even where government/media relationship is frosty, as we have now where President Goodluck Jonathan regularly vents his spleen for what he sees as inconsiderate media portrayal of his government. It is in government’s enlightened self interest to nurture the growth of the media, for the simple reason that it is part of its mandate of developing the country. But whether or not the government embarks on this assignment would depend on effort of the owners of the newspaper organisations themselves on whom the onus fall not to let the industry die. The Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN)—the body that protects the wellbeing of the industry– regularly meets on this objective. It must undertake to nudge the government toward creating a self sustaining media industry. It will be a fitting way to ensure another Newswatch does not go down under.

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